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 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.
* * * * *
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.


The Foster Files: Can the Phoenix Pharmacy Rise Again?

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

The Pharmacy building from the other side of the street.

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

The Phoenix in its’ heyday.

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

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

In the glory days of VHS.

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

Happy pharmacists!

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

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

A ghost sign haunts the back.

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

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



Summeritis: A Wall and Some Bridges

Last week, I was out of town but still managed to write a post. I wrote it using my iPhone and sporadic wi-fi. Talk about phoning it in! This may have me resting on my laurels. There’s a post vacation malaise that took over as I was working on this week’s piece. I haven’t totally envisioned the concept, and the theme is happening as I write. My “summeritis” is hitting a wall.

When I became a car commuter this spring, I started spending time on I-5 South and in SW Portland. I went from bike commuting to taking the train and bus to my current job. Once I had a car available, I drove. I began to see things in a different section of town, and stuck in traffic. This had me examining my surroundings.

This post wouldn’t have happened if John Lennon hadn’t named one of his solo albums Walls and Bridges. That title was on my mind. As oblique and simple as it is, it had me considering the category. There were probably more walls that I overlooked but I discovered a bridge less glamorous but no less notable than other bridges in Portland. My summertime brain is mushy, but I can hear the cries of the universe begging for a blog post like this one.

It occurred to me one morning that this retaining wall along I-5 was well conceived. It’s not that I can’t point out a couple of faults, but most mornings when I looked at this heap of rolling concrete, I was pleased. Someone had executed a nice design. The wall’s grooved stucco texture and gentle curves look great. This slab did seem to be begging to be covered with impossible to clean graffiti. We’re talking about an accessible canvas in a high traffic area. I always try not to worry about the inevitable and enjoy the view. My only problem with the wavy wall of clean concrete is the chain link fence crowning it. Were there no other fence options? Anything? It’s not a classy accompaniment. It’s chain link.

Bridges in the area are classy for the most part.  How would it feel to cross a pedestrian bridge named after you? Darlene Hooley knows. The official name of the bridge pictured above is US Congresswoman Darlene Hooley Bridge. There may be only a few people who could name this I-5 crossing by the Tram station. There’s nothing fancy about it besides the name. It’s utilitarian as bridges go and gets the job done.  Foot traffic passes over the highway without the fear that comes form dodging cars.

If I had a bridge named after me I would walk up and down it often asking people, “Do you know who I am?” Maybe that’s why no one has named a bridge after me.

I often road over this crossing on SW Barbur Blvd after work. The cement arches are aesthetically pleasing. The plaque piqued my curiosity, so I made plans to stop to take photos. It offers information concerning the Oregon Electric Railway.

The word in the second line is in shadow so I can’t make it out. I know it doesn’t say “ottercrossing.” Further research filled my head with information about the Oregon Electric Railway, the historical society and trolley cars. I almost lost an afternoon delving into local railroad history, so I will leave it up to my readers to take it from here.

Another bridge in the SW Portland area boasts impressive metal work. This is a bridge that carries SW 19th over I-5. I would have no problem walking across it often, perhaps if I were on my way for a bite at Humdingers. Pattern and detail are lacking in modern slapdash bridge designs.

Looking across to the other side, I noticed what happens when a car crashes into the railing. This doesn’t appear to be something that can be straightened without some effort, so there’s no reason to get bent out of shape about it. This post was desperate for a pun–ah, rock on anybody!

Who couldn’t resist the view of a bridge behind a rain splashed windshield? This bridge leading in or out of Multnomah Village has old world charm, nice curve appeal and looks sturdy. It allows for car traffic above and below. With all of it’s grayness, it almost blends in with the gray skies. There was something quaint about this image as I saw it looming through the windshield. Like the rest of Multnomah Village it has a certain charm even  through rain drops and glass.



Fourth of July: Flags Unfurled

Capture the flag takes on a whole new meaning when you’re trying to get that shot, the one where a flag unfurls majestically revealing all of its stars and stripes in their full glory. It takes waiting for the right wind or snapping away hoping for that perfect patriotic tear inducing shot. Flags are out aplenty this time of year creating opportunities to make classic all-American images.

Unfurled in the reflection.

With an inflatable, wind sock and buntings the flag becomes secondary to this Uncle Sam scene but it does manage to sneak its way into the picture.

Porch breezes caught.

Stars are stripes are essential decorations for this holiday. Sneak them into an old flower pot and they’ll dress that up as well.


Not every flag is in the right place to catch air. This flag is unable to display its faded glory. It can only hope to catch the right breeze.

Unfurling in a crazy wind.

The stripes of old glory here are encountering wind gusts from multiple angles making it tough to unflap its flapibility but it’s not with out effort.

Unfurling slowly.

A fun sculpture that attempts to heed a warning gets into the spirit of the Fourth of July with the addition of a small flag. Slow down, heed the patriotism revealed by this plastic boy and dog and you’ll keep kids safe in the process.

Bright and sunny.

Taken from a new home built across from the Post Office, whoever gets this room is going to wake up to an amazing flag view. On sunny days the sight of this is sure to supercharge anyone’s patriotic fervor.

Barely breezy.

This flag speaks to me about rights and freedom of expression and respect for the goings on behind closed doors. This flag also gets replaced periodically when it becomes tattered. Regardless of what kind of dancing goes on in this establishment, even if bears dance bare,  I salute this flag.

Bud Light drinkers unite.

This one goes out to some time Portland Orbit contributor, Will Simmons, who made a crack about Budweiser drinkers in Portland. Here’s proof that somebody is at least trying to inspire people to drink Bud and his cousin Bud Light in this town.

At some point this year it occurred to me that the American flag had been coopted, that it had somehow has come to represent those who use it as a way to show themselves to be more patriotic and even more loyal to American ideals. Sure flag waving has always been a thing but as I aim to keep things light and fluffy around here my flag appreciation remains unfettered. Things in the U.S. are in a state of flux but the flag still represents the hope and a determinations our founding fathers set out for this country in their old school, powdered wig wearing ways. This post, an annual one, is an attempt to extol the joys of flag displays. I want to see the flag as something all Americans understand as well as stand behind. I encourage everyone to get creative with Fourth of July decorations, if only for my entertainment alone.

Have a happy July Fourth!

Creepy Stairs, Not Stares

In the beginning.

On a sunny afternoon the opening to a long winding staircase peeks out onto SW Barbur Blvd. The stairs begin dark and gloomy. Surrounding trees and brush block out the sun. The steps appear in an uninviting section of this busy four lane road offering an escape from a dirt and gravel shoulder. I had no idea where they led but anywhere, even a route that required taking sinister steps had to be better than the starting location. It has the feel of a live action Candy Land game. If you land on the space you go up the stairs.

Paint job needed.

I have read a few blogs posts in the Pittsburgh Orbit about that city’s stairs. The weekend before I checked out these mystery stairs, a friend had mentioned The Portland Stairs book. I know Portland has a network of stairs too but I’m not familiar with them. Pittsburgh stairs were constructed for workers to be able to get down the hills to the factories below. With Portland it’s a given that if you live on a hill you would also need steps.

It’s not the tree that’s crooked.

The more I drove past these stairs the more curious I was about where they led. They seemed strange to me. I wondered where someone would go if they took the stairs down the hill to Barbur Blvd. The closest location of significance is the Fulton Park and Community Center or the Portland French school up the road. The stairs have a middle of nowhere feel. It makes more sense to use the stairs to get away from that section of road. I spent the first five months of the school year commuting by bus and train but since I’ve become a regular driver I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a public transportation user or a pedestrian. The stairs provide an easier way to get up the hill. The other option would huffing it up and around a steep street. There has to be a few people who benefit from the stair’s location.

The 201st step.

I ascended the stairs after parking the car on a steep incline on SW Parkhill Dr and walking over. There was never a more aptly named street. It’s hard to tell how much the stairs get used. Graffiti on one of the stair walls had been painted over but the railings suffered from peeling paint and lichen growth. Closer to the top, a pair of pants had been draped over a railing. The stairs proved to be winding but not unyielding. The steps did a nice of job of cutting through the forest and brush. It wasn’t a bad walk as I strode up the stairs with plenty of landings along the way. I spotted daylight and the landings stopped. I was stepping through tall bushes towards sunlight. I popped up in a sedate neighborhood between two nice homes on another section of SW Parkhill Dr. I was able to look back and see a terrific view across the Willamette River. After I headed down the stairs and got back to the car I lamented not counting the stairs. A stair count would offer a sense of how far up the hill the stairs go. A specific number would be impressive. I chose not to return to the stairs to count but my estimate would be at least 300 steps.

Outdoor pants drying rack?

I know there are plenty of stairs in the West Hills and other parts of Portland. Something tells me that they must be impressive if a 147 page book has been written about the subject. I haven’t had the opportunity to explore them. At this point I’m just trying to keep up with the Pittsburgh Orbit. If they’re writing about stairs, I write about Portland’s version. I found my transplant self emerging reflected by my ignorance of stair history, but it felt good to take a few minutes to check them out instead of continuing to drive past them everyday giving them little thought. On the stairs I didn’t run into trolls, sketchy or pantsless people and I didn’t end up reenacting a Portland version of that scene out of the Exorcist. There are more steps out there with there own stories or at the very least some better views.

Post Script: As I was posting this I discovered on the community walk website that the Barbur Blvd stairs are known as the Nebraska Stairway and have a total of 147 steps. My estimate of 300 steps was way off but a good guess considering I had walked up and then back down the steps. That math has me off by only 6 steps. I checked a copy of the Portland Stairs Book from the library which is the first step in my becoming a stairs expert.


View from a meeting room.

In my professional video production days I was paid to go to public forums and government meetings. Sometimes you have to do things when there’s no payday involved. On Tuesday, March 7, North Portland community members gathered in a conference room at the Red Lion Inn  for a meeting that concerned a permit for an oil recycling business on Hayden island called American Petroleum Environmental Services or APES for short. It was inevitable that we would make an effort to find out more about area air quality issues since we had been encountering an ongoing chemical odor in our Kenton neighborhood since the days we first moved in eight years ago. I lived with it and listened to the complaints. My running joke was about how sometimes, when the wind was right, we were treated to the scent of cookies from the nearby snack factory. More often the air has been filled with the byproducts of the industrial goings on that lie between the Columbia slough and businesses along Columbia Blvd. The Sunday morning before the meeting, my wife Ronna, had been watching videos about air issues in our vicinity. One showed an infrared image of a smoke stack with waves and bubbles could only represent insane toxins spewing into out atmosphere. The image cried out for some industrial music in the vein of Tone Ghosting in the background. It was scary visualizing what’s going into the air knowing I’d been breathing and smelling that. There were also videos of a woman talking about the situation in the manner of a fireside chat detailing the work of her North Harbor Neighbors group and their concerns with the performance of the State’s Department of Environmental Quality.

In order to set the record straight I thought I’d borrow from the meeting invite posted on Facebook:

Since the public forum, in a general sense, was about air. It had me thinking about the Talking Heads song of the same name. Air has a science fiction feel to the lyrics and the music seems modern and electronic. The overall feeling is someone voicing struggles in a world gone wrong. The narrator says to himself:

What is happening to my skin?
Where is the protection I needed?
Air can hurt you too
Air can hurt you too
Some people say not to worry about the air
Some people never had experience with…

Even when I first heard this song I thought it was a strange topic. I wasn’t sure why someone needed to write a song about air. Talking Head’s singer and songwriter David Bryne has probably never been to Hayden Island. Clear, pollution free air to breath is not something to overlook and even though it’s a strange song subject the reality of polluted air is alarming. It’s worse to smell it and suffer health complications as a result.

The forum gave citizens an opportunity to question DEQ employees and make comments. I wanted to see some government employees taken to task. Any of us would be yelled at by our bosses if we did what these employees did or in this case didn’t do. The moderator was a former high school teacher who presented meeting guidelines in a way that meant he had experience with keeping people in line. His list was meant to prevent the meeting from devolving into chaos or a public flogging. Attendees were encouraged to raise thumbs up or down when reacting to people’s comments which made for a lively and less disruptive participation tool.

The meeting began with questions. Those wanting to ask were given a numbered piece of paper. Mixed in with the questions were asides like:

“I’ve been breathing this crap for two years now and it’ll all poison.”

“This is people’s lives.”

“What’s going in the air?”

“We all get a little riled up about this.”

Some questions revealed that knowledgeable people were familiar with technical aspects of the situation. Hearing about a thermal oxidizer and the company being accused of being a title 5 pollutor, which is scary regardless of what kind of scale we’re talking about, were concepts over my head so I was glad to know some people knew what was going on. It was revealed that there was a tank containing PCBs on the site. I’m not sure what a PCB is but I’ve heard it’s bad stuff. How can anyone be cavalier about carcinogens? The real reporters stood on the sidelines looking bored and waiting for their chance to do their TV work. Things were heating up for me when I realized I have to live with this, or maybe die from it.

It occurred to me that I was onto a hot story although it’s taken me weeks to sort it out. I was hearing things like the DEQ wasn’t testing for all possible contaminates and that a regulatory overhaul wasn’t supposed to happen until next year. Given the circumstances, the pace of the state’s efforts seemed glacial.

Rally ’round the flag!

When Mary Lou Putnam spoke she seemed like a star to me. I had seen her videos and her discussions of what was feeling like a crisis. She pointed out that people were losing trust in government employees. Her question involved when the DEQ was going to do emission testing on the stack. Tied into that had been thoughts on full spectrum testing and 24/7 monitoring.

The DEQ point of view.

Answers were being provided by a DEQ employee with rolled up sleeves. He seemed diplomatic and careful, I’m not implying that he didn’t care but what effort he was making didn’t seem like it could be enough. Even his explanation of a one time testing process that took three hours seemed woefully inadequate. Another DEQ employee explained, “I’m committed to telling you the truth even if it’s something you don’t want to hear.” It occurred to me that people already knew the worst and they seemed like a bunch who could handle the truth.

I liked how an older generation of people felt like tribal elders, with apologies to any actual tribal elders, as they began to skirt the ground rules. There were grumblings and discontented reactions. They were fighting for us. Somewhere in all the questioning an attendee suggested that a grand jury should be impaneled. There were murmured chants of, “shut ’em down.” It felt like they had the authority to tell the state employees what was right. They could have easily blown off the meeting, given up and stayed home with their windows shut, but they didn’t.

Cornerstones of meetings: Notes, Site photos, Timer, Hand outs

Our Kenton neighborhood star Steven Glickman offered to pay for a permit to get a monitor to put on the stack. He had been the first to ask a question and later in the meeting the first to make a comment. He must have gotten there early. I felt lucky to have people with scientific knowledge challenging the DEQ representatives. It held them more accountable and didn’t allow them to hoodwink the audience with circuitous mumbo jumbo. The state was accused of not monitoring “this stuff” because it’s bad for business. One questioner made the point that the DEQ employees feared corporations more than the taxpayers. An insider to the oil recycling business offered up what felt like whistle blower details when he mentioned that he knew workers who left the industry due to fears of getting cancer. It had me hoping that Erin Brockovich was going to walk through the meeting room doors.

I learned that there was a network of groups, coalitions and advisory committees that met and were working for cleaner air often on a voluntary basis. It occurred to me that that anyone who might be partying or playing banjos or even working multiple jobs all while breathing nasty air, well, more power to them, but it’s made me appreciate the people taking their to time to make the effort to clean up out air and bring awareness to the state employees failings. In the end there was talk of more hearings and draft permits that all seemed to amount to government workers working overtime.

Homemade signs fastened with painter’s tape


Local coverage:

Good job Lincoln!

Please (Parking Hassles)

People around here are often polite when offering instructions about certain parking situations. In a couple of signs I’ve seen, please is the lead word and it reminds me that people continue to display good manners.



I remember seeing this sign in a neighborhood around Benson High School and being perplexed for a moment about what needed to be pulled forward. The sign? The tree? I suppose it became obvious when I considered that the tree was along the curb and that back bumpers stick out and block driveways. The sign hangs dainty and delicate from the string, but commands your attention. There’s something in the power of block letters and a pleasant font.


This sign, spotted by the Pioneer School, seems wordy. It’s the kind of sign one passes then wonders about. “What’d that sign say?” Even slowing to a crawl, I’m sure most drivers are focused on carefully parking the car, not reading.

The block letters are bold:




Sure you’re going to cooperate if you bother to read the sign. What kind of person would you be if you didn’t? I read all signs, and I hope other people pay attention to them not to mention whether or not they’re blocking someone’s driveway. Also, that pole is an excellent boundary marker.  Anything beyond the pole is out of bounds.  I’m not critical of the message in any way. It seems perfectly reasonable.



On the other hand, I’m sometimes struck by the lengths some signs will go to. Sign makers find reminders of common courtesy necessary at times, and some parse the biblical commandments. There’s not a hint of the word please from this sign spotted in the parking lot of a defunct cluster of stores across from the Tamale Boy restaurant on Dekum St. Bossy, pushy, blaring out it’s “NO” in red ink, the parking lot had a long list of prohibitions as if to discourage people from doing anything but parking in the lot. I’m not sure why anyone needs to be reminded not to engage in any “indecent exposur” in a parking lot. And thanks for letting me play music, just not loud music. (You could have included a volume number.) I don’t like rules in my parking lots. There are no rules or even suggestions necessary for me. When I park my car, I’m there to stop driving.  I’m there to get out, do some shopping, get back into the car and get out of the parking lot. I would rather loiter and do other things from the list of activities in any other place than a parking lot.

If I had a parking lot, there would be no rules allowed except maybe that there shall be no rules or rules signs. Thou shalt post no bills is my commandment!


What I really need to do is reread that last part of that sign, slow down and not get riled up about dumb signs in parking lots.

Outside Art


When I see Outside Art I admire it. I do wonder why people display it outside. Outside Art tends to look discarded unless it’s hung properly. There are fancy pieces, oil paintings that look valuable yet they are in the elements as if the weathering process is part of the artistic process. It reflects the impermanence of our material world while not being so obvious about making such a statement. There’s something to appreciate about art being displayed in an unusual way outside the typical art gallery or walls of a home.

Octopuses Garden

Octopus’s Garden

I asked Jeff Dodge about the Outside Art he has on a fence tucked away in a corner of his backyard and surprisingly, he had no real story. The way he described it, it felt like it had always just kind of been there. He was pretty sure it came with the house. There it hangs an unobtrusive dash of art in a shadowy section of a backyard.

Can anyone find the bridge?

Can anyone find the bridge?

Detail, Outside Art

Detail, Outside Art

In the Woodlawn neighborhood I saw this piece on a shed. In the upper photo the piece fits in well with the truck, trash can and recycling bin making these elements more homey. People must respect the art. Up until the point I took photos, no one had stolen the painting. The subject matter captures a bridge to nowhere scenario which feels like a fitting theme for Outside Art, an outdoor scene that remains open ended and mysterious.

Subject matter clouded by distance.

Subject matter clouded by distance.

Nice day for a bike painting.

Nice day for a bike painting.

Another nice fit for this spot between North Williams and Vancouver is this energetic portrayal of outdoor bike riding. It might make more sense if the building is affiliated with a bike shop which I think it is. It’s in a combination Leroy Neiman, Jackson Pollock style. All right, so I’m proving that I know nothing about art when I break out random names. At least I didn’t say Bob Ross. The painting is also appropriate with its location being in a heavily traveled bike corridor. There might be something to Outdoor Art gravitating to an outdoor theme if only on a subconscious level.

Not bugging me.

Not bugging me.

Bugs are perfect subjects or, in this case, specimens of Outdoor Art. This one on Mississippi Ave gets bonus points for being a kind of three dimensional piece complete with a tile frame and some additional tile pieces. It looks like the art is cemented into the building making theft impossible. An art hater or thief would have to use a chisel. It’s a handsome bug too, more arty than creepy.

What is it about this recurring theme about art theft? I’m really not sure but having watched TV shows and movies about it has planted the idea in my brain. Art works that might be easy pickens may not be the type of art that fetch high prices in the underground art market and art thieves hanging stolen art on their walls are reminded of their crime every time they see it.

Color My World

Color My World

One nice thing about Outside Art is the freedom it has to spruce up dreary spaces. Behind Cup coffee shop in North Portland and beyond a graffiti splashed fence hangs a piece of Outdoor Art on a shed. It’s bright background highlights a stenciled, business suited man from another era. My first out of date reference was Hugh Beaumont, but Don Draper will work. He doesn’t have to do much besides look over the fence and be pleasant while standing in front of a sunny backdrop. He appears to be a good listener if that stuff that look like butterflies is going into his ears instead of heading out. The coffee ring stains are a nice touch.

Join the party!

Join the party!

Some art is left outside for varying lengths of time either for display purposes or perhaps it’s part of a curing process. More proof that I may not know as much as I think I do about art. I mean curing process? This painting was placed on a porch by a neighbor and it accentuates the already outstanding taste in exterior design. The theme of the painting mimics the flesh and bone themes used in the porch decor.

Sidewall, sidewalk Art

Sidewall, sidewalk Art

This piece, propped up against an auto body shop in Kenton, has an industrial look to it. Besides that there’s no story I know as to who left it behind or created it. The rust factor in this abstract piece is perfect for it’s outside nature but it looks abandoned. It’s hard to tell how long this synthesis of industrial art loitering outside an industrial workplace will last. Every once in a while an example of Outside Art makes the sad transition to discarded art.

Exotic Defacement


When an official looking green sign caught my eye, I decided to walk the dog over and have a look. It was a public notice taped to a side wall of a of a dormant building, home to a small and former, nondescript auto repair shop. I thought notices were usually orange but this one, regarding a Marijuana Regulatory License, made its green color all the more appropriate. Finding out about another pot shop moving into the neighborhood is not the story here. The more the merrier, I guess. Even a marijuana dispensary taking over a potentially contaminated auto shop is not reason enough to call the EPA. What would be the point?


On my way over to read the public notice I took a picture of a poster on a utility pole. There were messages scrawled on it and a splash of red ink that looked like an anarchy symbol. It was getting dark when I photographed the poster so I didn’t look at the image until the next morning. That’s when I made the discovery: Someone had it out for the Exotic Ball.

Poster torn!

Poster torn!

I remembered that I had seen similar posters torn down. My theory was someone was defaming while someone else didn’t like the defamation or was offended by the poster. These assumptions flooded my mind as I traveled by Max train and bus to work on a rainy morning. My questions were: Why take anything out on a poster? What has it done to anyone besides try to look foxy and do a bit of advertising? If you need a platform for your political message why use someone else’s sign? You don’t jack someone else’s poster. In the name of free speech people should be able to display ads without reprisal by those who might be offended. The best theory I’d considered revolved around a loner who couldn’t get a date to take to the Exotic Ball. It’s like an R rated Stalker/Cinderella plot. Someone type up that screenplay right away!


Let’s consider this defamation. First there’s an awful lot of gobbledy gook obscuring the image of two ladies, with fantastic taste in foot wear, perhaps in a bathroom, an image of how wild things get even in the restrooms of the Exotic Ball. Then we see 666, I mean really if the devil doesn’t go to the Exotic Ball who the hell does? Or who admits to it, anyway? Also, I’m wondering about Hot Shot and Lord Pound.


While riding home that day after work, I realized the poster had nothing to do with the Exotic Ball because it doesn’t exist. I had confused exotic with erotic, easy to do when the words are one letter different. This post is becoming one of those elderly hard of hearing jokes. It’s the Erotic Ball that’s held at varying times each year at the Crystal Ballroom. My assumption was that it’s held in February but there probably is already enough romance that month. I remember being at a Crystal Ballroom event and getting an unsolicited earful and an over informative report about the experiences of one participant. There was one specific clue from the poster that had me taking a long, slow fall from my jump to conclusions and embarrassing myself while dealing with the realization that I had just written my first piece of fake news.


It hit me, the medium is the message. The interpretation is anyone’s guess. I can see Marshall McLuhan from that scene in the Woody Allen movie Annie Hall but now he’s talking directly to me. “You know nothing of my work,” he says.


The women in the defaced poster were Exotic pinups from a magazine that’s distributed from various area strip clubs. I went from defending the Erotic Ball to dealing with something that became weird and possibly not in the realm of upbeat, positive Portland sanctioned weirdness. This was an attack on pin up photography which included prankish and juvenile Satanism. I characterize it that way because the easiest way to shock people is to reference Satan. I understood what made people want to tear it down. There’s a Satanism bias that occurs when people see the number 666. I tend to laugh these things off but there’s a disturbing element to all of this. A perfectly good Exotic pin up poster was trashed multiple times.

Reaping wind!

Reaping wind!

Now I have to ask myself, or maybe the world, a series of different questions that may never be answered. Who designs posters by scrawling over Exotic Pinup February 2017? What is the message? Who tore the posters off the other utility poles? Did the devil make anybody do any of this? What’s the point of including an illegible (uh oh, legible on another poster) email address? Who would I be emailing and what would be said? Something like: I’m an admirer of your illegible, satanic, insanity, perhaps? I have no answers at this time but I’m only half as confused as I was when I started this blog post.