Best of Portland 2013

Alex Morgan of the Portland Thorns IMAGE: Matt Wong
Anytime a Willy Week writer discovers something awesome in Portland, we fashion a way to write about it. We’re pretty good at this—almost every issue finds us declaring something or other to be the best in Portland, as you can see here

Occasionally, we are thwarted. Sometimes that’s because we want to write about something that’s existed for some time before we noticed it (underwater hockey) or because other WW writers have been writing about it for 20 years (Sherman Jackson) or because there’s just no way to write a normal newspaper story about it (Rocky the raccoon). When this happens, our minds start to tingle. Eventually, there is a burning sensation.

Thus, our annual Best of Portland issue. For us, this week is a salve. Thanks to this 72-page pressure valve, we finally get to write about all those things we
otherwise have no excuse to write about.

For you, we hope, it’s a spotlight on amusing and strangely captivating (best traffic break) things you’ve never noticed. No matter how long you’ve
lived in this exceptional corner of the world, no matter how hard you’ve worked to keep up, here you will learn something you never knew existed.

So, here’s to Portland’s best toilet, unicycle gang, marijuana strain, police horse and 40 others.

Thanks again—we needed that.


introduction people barber elevator cheapskates traffic animals raccoon horse dog antidepressant truth cats beekeeper best art billboard statue rock flower weather best sights narnia invisible city twit toilet Best Bites brag tea cocktail marijuana music choir concert promoter dj zambian venue sideman am buys cuddler forklift type lost synth souvenir fun pitch underwater swim polo bike foosball magic gun morgan year of bests

Oregonian Accidentally Outs Food Critic Michael Russell?

This is probably Oregonian critic Michael Russell eating a rib at Pine Shed.
Michael Lloyd of The Oregonian.

Most Portlanders who read Michael Russell‘s restaurant reviews have never seen his face. That’s impressive in an era where it’s basically impossible to remain unphotographed, and when struggling media outlets obsessively attempt to promote their big names. Yet the Oregonian‘s everyman food critic remains hidden behind a crude avatar that depicts him as an elderly hobo eagerly awaiting a pot of possum stew. Russell doesn’t do TV or have a public Facebook page. He generally does not attend media preview dinners. A Google image search turns up nothing on him.

Until now. This photograph from a slideshow of Portland barbecue restaurants appears to be Russell’s sauce-splattered face gnawing on a bone from Pine Shed Ribs. (Russell had no comment.) I’m not sure those who’ve never seen him could identify him from this—half his face is out of the frame and the other half is greatly obscured by a bone and the restaurant’s overly sweet and syrupy sauce—but this still strikes me as a watershed moment.

 

Food critic anonymity, already a farce in Portland, might finally be dying. That’s something to celebrate, because it’s been a sham for a while.

 

Food critics ostensibly remain anonymous for a good reason, which is that they don’t want special treatment. We want the same overly fatty steak you get, the same charming but slightly flaky Portland service and no free aperitifs. We want to be able to tell you exactly what to expect when you show up because it’s the same thing we got.

 

In some cities, critics go to great lengths to remain anonymous. In Phoenix, where I worked before WW, Michele Laudig of Phoenix New Times and Howard Seftel of the Arizona Republic were known to use wigs or credit cards issued in other names. Seftel had previously been at New Times. When he left for the Republic, the paper drummed up a reason to publish his photograph, which was widely considered an attempt to kill his career. Laudig left for New York, and New Times‘ new critic also fronts a garage rock band, so she’s hardly anonymous. Seftel remains secretive and touchy—recently, one of my friends accidentally snapped a photo of him at a food festival, prompting a call from a Republic editor who asked if he could remove it from his blog.

 

But Seftel got into the game long before every phone was also a camera, and before social media shared our drunken Kentucky Derby party photos around the world. Food critics don’t descend from Mars. Actually, every staff critic in Portland previously worked another beat, where they weren’t anonymous. Russell, for example, was famously characterized as “a cops reporter who had washed dishes in a restaurant kitchen” by former Seattle Weekly food critic Hanna Raskin. As the old guard moves along—or, like Karen Brooks, the dean of Portland food critics, gets an offer to judge on Top Chef and has a new book to promote—most people in the generation that replaces it will have been photographed daily from birth. Russell, who is about 30, is already an odd bird in this regard.

 

And, honestly, in Portland, anonymity has never been much of a concern. The Oregonian has long published food reviews from David Sarasohn, whose picture appears in the paper next to his politics column, and other never-anonymous food reviewers like former WW staffer Ben Waterhouse. Meanwhile, Russell sometimes interviews chefs in person, meaning plenty of people in the industry know what he looks like.

 

Portland’s best-known food critic, Brooks—who started at WW and worked for the Oregonian for many years before being shunted in cost-saving maneuvers and landing at Portland Monthly, where she hasn’t been able to use all her talents—was asked about this last year by Food Republic.

 

“Not sure I was ever all that anonymous.” she said. “In the age of bloggers and a radically changed media landscape, few established critics haven’t been outed. My system has always been the same: sneak attack (make reservations under a fake name); always pay my way; stay gracious and respectful; don’t pull punches. Can a kitchen play favorites? Sure. But so far, my sudden appearance has yet to magically transform a kitchen into El Bulli… Manipulating critics is more an obsession in the high-end world of big-money restaurants. Portland isn’t in that game.”

 

And she’s right. First, to Portland’s great credit, no one knows or cares who anyone is. I doubt Phil Knight could get bumped to the front of the Apizza Scholls line unless his kid plays in a band the hostess likes. Also, kitchens generally don’t have special ingredients around for critics. WW‘s policy is to use several critics, make reservations under a fake name (or, better yet, not at all—God bless Portland!), pay for our meals and pad our own experience with intelligence from our shadowy network of trusted informants.

Have I been made? Well, sure. A few weeks ago, a hostess seemed overly attentive. Sure enough, the next day she started following me on Twitter. I pushed that review back a few weeks. I’m planning to return about 15 minutes before the end of service on a busy Saturday night and order everything on the menu.

That, of course, is the real giveaway. Wanna spot a food critic? Look for the person ordering three or four appetizers for their table of two. If one of the menus disappears, you know you’ve got a live one.

Also, here’s a handy reference to every food critic in town…

David Sarasohn, a longtime Oregonian columnist before he was a food writer, as he models for Rodin’s The Thinker.

WW critic Matthew Korfhage, on a mug shot site.

Oregonian contributor Ben Waterhouse, who is in an uncharacteristically chipper mood here, presumably having found a $100 bill while watching a kitten spar with a puppy immediately before this photo was taken.

The Portland Tribune‘s Anne Marie DiStefano, the only critic in town with the gumption to take on Chef Beau Breedlove’s new place.

Karen Brooks with Teri Gelber, who is attempting to steal her look.

Chris Onstad, a cartoonist who writes reviews for the Portland Mercury.

Kelly Clarke, who is one Street Roots byline away from writing for every reputable Portland publication in the same month.

Portland Monthly hype man Ben Tepler.

WW contributor Michael C. Zusman, who is trying to hide behind a coffee shop but who still wears those very recognizable glasses.

Michael Russell.

And, of course, a photo of me during my brief stint as a professional soccer player in Slovakia.

Capture or Asylum

IMAGE: Morgan Green-Hopkins

In junior high, they give you To Kill a Mockingbird. In high school, it’s The Catcher in the Rye.
In Texas, we presume, they give you a Bible and a gun. In Portland,
sooner or later most new arrivals are handed a slim, smudgy volume that
looks to have been stained by coffee and burnt by cigarettes. It is
adorned on its front by an ominous gang of bleary-eyed Santas.

 

None

“This is the best book,” your friend tells you.

Chuck Palahniuk’s Fugitives and Refugees
was published on July 8, 2003—10 years ago this Monday. It’s a travel
guide to a Portland that no longer exists, a calico mutt of misfit
humanity that was dispersing even as its pages were written.

But transience is the
book’s essential virtue: It does not describe a Portland you are
expected to visit. It’s instead a lens by which to see the Portland
before you today, a compendium of the oddball and fringe and
by-the-wayside that has become central to how our city understands
itself.

Unlike the Portlandia television series—or myriad proper guidebooks—Fugitives
treats its subjects not with shallow bemusement but with humane
generosity, plus a touch of sadness that it will all pass unnoticed.

Palahniuk may always be best known as the author of Fight Club, but in this city, Fugitives
has touched the broadest range of people. I carried it around for a
month while researching this article, prompting a succession of
strangers to meekly approach.

“That is the best book,” they say.

He almost didn’t
write it. Originally, Palahniuk declined Crown Publishing’s offer to
write a hometown travel guide. “I was on deadline for another book,”
Palahniuk tells WW from his home in the Columbia Gorge, where he
moved for solitude in 2005 after the death of his mother. “I said, ‘If
you pay me what you paid Michael Cunningham [for Land’s End, a guide to Provincetown, Mass.], I’ll do it.’ Michael had a book called The Hours out, and it was the biggest thing in the world for that year.”

Guides generally
become obsolete the moment they are written. Cunningham’s book is now
out of print, alongside every other guide in the series except one: Fugitives and Refugees.

In part this is because Fugitives and Refugees
is the closest Palahniuk, whose fans are known for their cultish
devotion, has come to autobiography; he chronicles his life of muggings
and fleeting ecstasies in a series of “postcards.” Yet most who read it
are not part of the cult of Chuck. The book endures because it is more
than a curio cabinet of “secret Portland.” In its loving attention to
quixotic toy museums, sex clubs and feral cat colonies, Fugitives grants our city the dignity of a shared mythology.

“Over the 10 years
it’s lived on our shelves,” says Michal Drannen of Powell’s City of
Books
, “its sales velocity doesn’t appear to be diminishing.” The book
has been translated into Italian, Polish and Turkish, and still makes
regular appearances on Powell’s weekly bestseller list. Sales figures
were not disclosed, but it’s now in its 14th printing.

Portland is rightly
celebrated for its food and cultural boom, its mecca status for the
aimless college graduates who arrive here with scripts already written
in their heads. But that comes at the expense of the improvisational,
down-and-out Portland of the recent past.

“Monica [Drake] and I
get together and mourn that city and that sense of possibility,” says
Palahniuk, “Satyricon and Fellini and those great old abandoned Portland
warehouses where people could create art and have a space.”

“On
one level,” says Palahniuk of Portland now, “it seems completely
obliterated. We don’t have these great old spaces and underused
properties people could camp out in and make their art in. On the other
hand, it seems like a fantastically young city, and I don’t just say
this because of my age now. These neighborhoods that used to be all
aging hippies are now full of young people.

“Back then if you saw a young person, they would be an exception. You had to go to Beaverton to see young people.”

But, of course, it’s not all gone. Ten years later, WW checks in with the people and places in Fugitives and Refugees,
to see if they’ve fled, passed or joined New Portland. Below, we bring
you some of the more interesting bits. Here, we revisit
each and every one, if only to tell you that, yes, the Grotto is still
the Grotto.

 

Katherine Dunn

The phrase “fugitives and refugees” comes from another Portland writer, Katherine Dunn, the author of Geek Love (and former longtime WW staffer). Fugitives
begins in her Northwest Portland living room, as she rolls cigarettes.
Portland, she tells Palahniuk, is the cheapest city available to those
who fled west from civilization, the “misfits of the misfits.” The
fugitives and refugees.

“I still feel kind of
a remorse over Katherine Dunn,” Palahniuk says. “I kind of insinuated
myself into her apartment one afternoon. Basically I turned that
conversation into fodder for a book, and she is such a private person.
I’ve never really apologized to her for it.”

Dunn declined to talk about Fugitives and Refugees,
but she still lives in Northwest Portland. Palahniuk says the two of
them are still in touch. In North Carolina, he came across a warehouse
staffed by robots that do nothing but sort books. “I saw a whole
semitrailer full of Geek Love that had never been touched by human hands,” Palahniuk says. “She loved that.”



Hippo Hardware

Ten years after Palahniuk’s visit to the shop, pieces of
Portland history still wash up at the Hippo Hardware antique and oddity
shop on East Burnside Street: the original doorstop for The Oregonian
offices, a kerosene-heated bathtub from a covered wagon, an ancient
baby bath from the Albertina Kerr Nursery and a shower assembly from
Pittock Mansion. There’s also a straight-out-of-the-box 1963 combination
salad shredder, cheese grater, dough hooker, juicer and kitchen sink
like the one used on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

The same owners,
Steven Miller and Stephen Oppenheim, still preside gleefully over the
menagerie. In 2007, when the cast of MTV’s Jackass came to
defecate loudly in one of the disconnected toilets on the shop floor,
Miller was in on the joke. He was the only one. He used the chance to
punk his plumbing-section manager, who was publicly unamused. The Jackass
producers bought the toilet, but Miller had to run across the street to
stop the film crew from heaving the biohazard-filled porcelain into the
dumpster of Michael’s Italian Beef and Sausage Co. “What would I have
told Michael?” Miller says. “That it didn’t come from me?”



Un-hauntings

Ghosts got a lot of space in Palahniuk’s book, but most of
the ones he wrote about have seemingly moved on. The ghost at the North
Portland Library
hasn’t been sighted since the old chapel across the street became the
McMenamins Chapel Pub. Jay Lucas, night auditor of the Heathman Hotel,
says he hasn’t seen anything peculiar. Neither have the people we
contacted at the Kmart on Northeast 122nd Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, at
the Maryhill Museum of Art or around Cathedral Park. Meanwhile, the former Rose and Raindrop’s restrooms are tucked within a closed branch of
Northwest Bank, haunting only themselves.

Lydia, the Pied Cow
Coffeehouse
‘s ghost, is still around. But she’s boring, says employee
Zachary Schauer. He saw her, he says, “at the end of a really long
shift. I just didn’t give a shit and went upstairs.

“Several different
people have seen her, and nothing really crazy has happened. It’s a
pretty typical young Catholic girl in a white dress kind of deal.”

 

None

Kidd’s Toy Museum

Former U.S. Air Force Capt. Frank Kidd, now 82 years old,
still presides over a massive collection of antique toys and banks,
railroad locks and beautiful die-cast models emblazoned with his name at
the nigh-unmarked Kidd’s Toy Museum at 1301 SE Grand Ave. He’s also the
landlord for Coava Coffee, right across the street.

But the museum’s
borders have receded, and much of Kidd’s collection is stored in
countless unseen tubs. And although Kidd still continues to buy whatever
catches his eye, he remembers most vividly what he’s lost. “I can’t
tell you what I’ve picked up in the past 10 years,” he says, “but I can
tell you every single thing I’ve compacted.”

He
was robbed twice in the past three years, once of $350,000 worth of toys
stored at his daughter’s home, and once of several gold coins in a
smash-and-grab robbery at the museum, whose display cases Kidd has since
fortified. The first thieves were caught. “The state sends me a check
for $50 every now and then,” he says, describing the meager restitution
he receives. But the toys are gone. “Sometimes I see something that I
know is mine, but why would they believe me?”

Still, he doesn’t plan to move the toys to a new neighborhood: “Everything stays, that’s the plan. They stay. I go.”

 

Self-Cleaning House

Palahniuk visited the fiercely independent Frances Gabe,
now age 98 and owner of more than 60 patents, including one for a home
that could clean itself. Inside her self-cleaning concrete house in
Newberg, everything was waterproofed, from plasticened paintings to
watertight boxes storing books and valuables. The place was,
essentially, a giant floor-to-ceiling dishwasher, with rotating water
jets on the ceiling and floors gently sloped to drains.

At the time, there
were free tours. No more. Gabe sold her home in 2008 and lives in a
managed-care facility. Sterling Parker, the self-cleaning house’s
current owner, says most of the plumbing had been removed when he bought
the property—although he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of
reinstalling it from memory if he thought there might be interest. He
plans to use the property as a wintering habitat for honeybee colonies,
and as a campground for long-distance cyclists.

Gateway to the Gayway

The four-story Club Portland, which was listed in Fugitives
as Portland’s last gay bathhouse, turned out to be far from the last.
The seamy, steamy standby stepped aside in 2007 to make room for
McMenamins’ Crystal Hotel, whose website happily trumpets the building’s
history as louche gambling den and gay playground. (Al’s Den, a bar and
performance venue in the basement, is a bit less forthcoming about its
past as a jack-off club called Zippers Down.)

SWING CLUB: The sling room at Steam Portland. According to a former employee, a “code brown” means you should probably get out of the bathhouse’s hot tub.

But two newer gay
bathhouses have sprung up since Palahniuk wrote his book. The two-story
Steam Portland on Northeast Sandy Boulevard is a decade old and features
a nude sun deck, many video booths, a hot tub, steam bath and lounge.
HawksPDX on Southeast Grand Avenue is a newer steam-roomed entrant in
the inner east side: less porn, more glory holes, more theme parties and
much more emphasis on the lounge space. As an added attraction,
HIV-positive porn star Dice is on staff. Both clubs offer free HIV/STD
testing several times a month. Each claims it is the only one in town to
do so.

Portland Memorial

Sellwood’s massive apartment complex for the dead, the century-old Portland Memorial mausoleum in Sellwood, described in Fugitives as a place to get lost panic-stricken amid a labyrinth of monuments to the passed, is no longer open to the general public.

“I hope you take out
some of the references he had about it being one of the best places to
drop acid,” says David Schroeder, CEO of the local five-cemetery chain
that now runs Wilhelm’s Portland Memorial Funeral Home. (Palahniuk had
actually suggested reading a book there.)

“A number of people
filming videos and doing strange things in there upset a lot of people,
so they secured the mausoleum in 2008,” Schroeder says. “People only go
in if they have a real reason to go.”

Palahniuk says it was
a popular place for goth sex, and cites unconfirmed reports of suicides
there: “It wasn’t good for business, obviously.” The Memorial (and the
families whose relatives are stored there) apparently agreed, although
the family-run mausoleum still offers organized tours of the historic
crypts three times a year. The ranks of the dead have swelled from
58,000 in 2003 to more than 75,000 today. There is still room for
perhaps a third of all Portlanders, should so many decide to go.

 

Darcelle XV

“I think some people would say I’m still telling the same
jokes I did 10 years ago,” says Walter Cole, who has performed for 46
years as the wisecracking drag queen Darcelle XV. “But why change it if
it works?” He’s been at his eponymous Old Town nightspot so long that
three generations of family arrive together to see his show; meanwhile,
his own son, Jay, works behind the bar.

Cole still makes his own costumes to become Darcelle XV, but no longer cleans the club’s restrooms as he did in Fugitives.
“I’ve got other people to do that now,” he says. He’s had both knees
replaced, and he doesn’t take any chances. “If they go out again,” he
says, “that’s it.”

Even
at age 82, Darcelle XV is onstage six or seven times a week. Cole says
he won’t stop while he’s still kicking, that stopping work is what kills
people. “My dream is, it happens in front of a packed house,” he says.
“There will just be this pile of dust on the stage, and then they throw
me out into the gutter and the show goes on without me.”

 

DEFLOWERING PORTLAND: A volunteer tears the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade down to its bits at the Northwest Industrial warehouse where floats are both made and destroyed.
IMAGE: Evan Johnson

The Death of the Rose Festival Floats

“I’ve been here 23 years,” says Kendra Comerford, vice
president of the company that makes the Rose Festival floats. “I think
one year they did it in the Rose Quarter.” That was the year, 1992, when
Palahniuk happened across the carnage near the Lloyd Center shopping
mall, and described headbangers blasting boom boxes and tearing the
day-old parade floats to bits, crushing the wilting flowers.

Every subsequent
year, the floats have been dismantled in a Northwest Industrial District
warehouse (2448 NE Vaughn St.), the same place they were built by a
team of volunteers. The number of floats has been dwindling since 2008,
victims of the economy and perhaps a broader decline in corporate
civics.

This year, on the
morning of Monday, June 10, the workers’ music was private, blasting in
earbuds. The Reser’s Fine Foods alligator, covered in artichoke leaves,
has wounds in his shoulder that look to come from a massive shotgun
blast. The Alaska Airlines bear’s left butt cheek is flung wide open to
reveal a steering wheel within. On the floral parade floats, every
visible surface must be organic, and so it is: seeds, flowers and grass.
Cotton feels almost like cheating, but there it is on the bear, dyed
taupe. The throne of the festival queen stands deflowered. The Oregonian’s
float promises that every party begins with the O. The roadster float
from Spokane, Wash., is a loaner meant for a paper parade, so its
flowers are stripped to leave tinsel behind. And when it reaches
Spokane, “the lilac city,” all of its own lilacs will be long since
tilled into the soil.

Largest and Smallest Parks

It is an enduring Portland myth that we have both the
largest and smallest city parks in the world—one Palahniuk repeated in
his book, though he hedged by calling Forest Park the largest “municipal
forested park,” ignoring the vast Saguaro cactus “forests” of Phoenix’s
South Mountain Park, which is three times Forest Park’s size. But we no
longer own the largest even with asterisks. Jefferson Memorial Forest
in Louisville, Ky., connected three separate patches of forest in 2009
to surpass the contiguous area of Portland’s Forest Park by 1,000 acres.

DOPPELDOUGLAS: This tree at tiny Mill Ends Park is a replacement for one stolen this spring. The original tree, which was recovered, is now at Mount Tabor.
IMAGE: Evan Johnson

Our titleholder for
smallest city park—the 2-foot-wide Mill Ends Park on Southwest Naito
Parkway—is also under attack. Promoters in Britain this year petitioned
Guinness World Records, saying that Mill Ends was not a park but a
“glorified flower pot,” nominating instead Prince’s Park in Burntwood,
England. They cited in particular Prince’s Park’s fence and bench.
Portlanders responded by building a miniature fence and bench for Mill
Ends, plus a soldier with a bazooka, presumably to keep the British out.
The fence and armed forces have since been removed.

Jefferson Theatre

In January 2003, when Fugitives was in galleys,
Jefferson Theatre owner Ray Billings, whose establishment showed porn
movies, disappeared. He left behind a lawsuit, a pile of debts, a young
Thai boyfriend and a half-finished Thai restaurant in Astoria. He
returned in July 2005 as mysteriously as he’d left, to find $25,000 in
his bank account. While he was gone, a lawyer had taken over Jefferson
Theatre and nursed Billings’ affairs back to health. The theater lost its lease to the Portland Development Commission in 2007; tenants of the building’s low-income Jefferson West Apartments were relocated in to a posh LEED-certified apartment building called the Jeffrey.

Billings, undeterred,
packed up his porn and took it to the century-old Paris Theatre, across
West Burnside Street from the adult bookstore pushed out of business by
Commissioner Randy Leonard because it was a magnet for unseemly
activity. (The bookstore’s property is now a village for the homeless,
called “Right 2 Dream Too.”) Ray’s Paris Theatre offers a stage where
couples can have sex in front of a crowd, plus a “perky exam table” and a
“voyeuristic bedroom.”

But
despite the many couples offerings, a recent visit finds a smattering of
middle-aged men watching a massive projection of tattooed teenage girls
being sloppily choked and slapped in the face. The men in the seats
have their pants on and look nervous. The men standing in the aisles do
not have their pants on, and look very comfortable.

As you enter, all
faces—translucent in the pale pink flicker of the theater—look away from
the interlocking figures on the screen and gaze hopefully, instead, on
you. Perhaps you will be something new. Perhaps you will be interesting.

A Brief Bestiary

Bear season is over at the Dirty Duck Pub. The manly men
now congregate at the “authentic, masculine” Eagle on North Lombard
Street, which offers “Bearly Naked Billiards” on Thursdays. The historic
Dirty Duck building in Old Town was demolished to make way for the kind
mother hens at the new Blanchet House of Hospitality transitional
shelter.

The Wildcats of Jeld-Wen Field

The Portland Beavers baseball team is gone, as are the
cardboard-cutout “alley-cat races” that once graced the minor-league
games. (The class-A Hillsboro Hops are now the area’s only pro baseball
team.) But after a 2011 renovation required by Major League Soccer, the
stadium’s feral cat colony remains. According to Ken Puckett of the
Portland Timbers, staff moved the cats’ feeding stations bit by bit
during the renovation, leading them to safer parts of the stadium, away
from what is now the Timbers Army cheering section.

Between eight and 12
cats are still providing sterling rodent control: The team’s interest in
the cats goes beyond preservation. The Timbers enlisted Karen Kraus of
the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon to help place a small colony of cats
with the stadium for renewed mousing. Don’t bring unloved domestic cats
here, though: They won’t be accepted by the wild ones, and will be
harmed or driven away.

Western Culinary Institute Amateur Lunch Hour

In 2003, one could go to the Western Culinary Institute
cooking school for a $10, high-end, five-course meal at lunchtime.
Reservation spots filled quickly with well-to-do cheapskates living in
the West Hills. Those meals are gone, as is the school’s name: In 2010,
Western was renamed Le Cordon Bleu. Western Culinary’s dime-store luxury
restaurant was replaced with a restaurant called Technique, which
serves $11 hot dogs topped with squid ink.

Technique is closed
due to construction, and a voice recording promises that all phone calls
will go unheeded, as “there is no one here to take your message.”
Meanwhile, the school is facing a class-action lawsuit by former
students claiming that aggressive salespeople promised the aspiring
chefs jobs that did not exist.

NECKING: According to one 2007 study, up to 94 percent of giraffe sex is male-on-male. Riley and Bakari are no exception.
IMAGE: Evan Johnson

A Day at the Zoo

In 2003, Palahniuk profiled Jeb Barsh, a fascinatingly
empathetic head elephant keeper who became famous in 2004 as the man who
taught Rama, an elephant at the Oregon Zoo, how to paint with both
brush and trunk. The paintings, spatters of trunk-blown abstraction and
broad expressionist strokes, can sell for thousands. Barsh stepped away
from elephants to the African Savanna exhibit in 2012, and declined to
participate in this article.

The new head elephant
keeper, Bob Lee, was described by Palahniuk as one of three “very big
men.” He is still a big man, with the sturdiness, high-and-tight haircut
and hunkered gait of a linebacker. He is helping teach Samudra, the
zoo’s 4-year-old bull, how to be a man. “In order for him to see what it
looks like to be a big male,” Lee says, “we put his dad, Tusko, out
there with him. He’s learning how to treat ladies and be a good bull.”
He apparently needs the help: He was afraid of his comparatively tiny
7-month-old sister, Lily, when he met her. “She started chasing him,”
Lee says, “and he went into full sprint, looking over his shoulder and
just roaring.”

Penguins: Mochica, the foot-fetishist penguin, is
now a 20-year-old elder ambassador of the newly rehabbed penguinarium.
He still loves shoes. He’s reportedly since humped the trademark cowboy
boots of Gov. John Kitzhaber. He has also humped the shoes of the author
of this article.

Sea otters: Thelma and Eddie, both described in Fugitives,
are still at the zoo. Eddie is a creaky 15 years old and arthritic, so
zookeepers trained him to dunk a mini-basketball to keep mobility in his
front elbows, which gained him fleeting notoriety on YouTube. Eddie is
known to zoo visitors for an entirely different habit, however, that
zookeepers refer to politely as “self-reinforcing behavior.” It requires
flexibility only certain mammals possess.

Giraffes: Zoo spokeswoman Krista Swan says she
sometimes sees on Facebook accounts that people are excited to witness
giraffes mating at the zoo. There’s a catch, however: Five-year-old
Bakari and 8-year-old Riley are both males. Riley and Bakari like to
nuzzle necks, and sometimes Riley will mount Bakari from behind. As we
watch, Riley sticks his head below Bakari’s belly. “Oh,” says zookeeper
Kristina Smith. “Riley likes to lick his pee, too. When Bakari’s peeing,
he tastes it and then makes a funny face.”

Movie Madness

Six years after Palahniuk wrote about the motley display
of Hollywood artifacts behind glass at Movie Madness video store on
Southeast Belmont Street, a piece of his own history turned up at the
store’s museum: the bar of soap that Brad Pitt held in the Fight Club movie poster.

MAKE IT A CLEAN FIGHT: At Movie Madness, Fight Club director David Fincher’s signature on the back of the famous soap bar can be seen in the mirror.
IMAGE: Evan Johnson

The bar was donated
by the film’s director, David Fincher, whose sister Emily lives in
Portland. “She brought the soap in,” says Movie Madness owner Mike
Clark. “It’s been really cool to have that here.” In 2012, things moved
in the other direction: A man broke into a case and biked away from the
store with a filched Winchester rifle used by John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and a shotgun featured in The Wild Bunch.

In February, though, a
man hiking through Mount Tabor found the guns in a garbage bag and
returned them to the store. “I think what happened,” says Clark, “is
that when he stole them, he thought he could make a quick buck. But he
didn’t have the authenticity to go with that. So they just sat
somewhere.” In the meantime, Clark has picked up pieces from his two
favorite movies. The first was a chair Ingrid Bergman used in Casablanca. From Citizen Kane he got a Fu Dog, a Chinese lion statue meant for watchful protection.

It is, perhaps, best placed near the guns. Erick Duane Johnson, the man suspected of the original theft, is still at large.

Suicide Bridge

The Vista Bridge high above Southwest Jefferson Street,
below which the city stretches out in dizzying panorama, remains a site
for suicide—enough so that Mayor Charlie Hales asked the Bureau of
Transportation to come up with a solution: barriers, assessed at a cost
of $2.5 million. “If we can find that money,” Hales spokesman Dana
Haynes told WW on June 6, “we think it’s a great idea.” In 2008,
the U.S. Department of Transportation assessed the monetary value of a
human life at $5.8 million.

YOU BETTER WATCH OUT: These Santas are still sober. The situation will be remedied very, very soon.
IMAGE: Morgan Green-Hopkins

A Confederacy of Santas

In 1996, Portland had its first Santacon, where Palahniuk
was among hundreds of drunken people dressed as Santa facing down a wall
of bullhorned police officers sworn to protect the sanctity of an urban
shopping mall. So it was in the early days. In 2004, teams of transit
police followed Santas on the newly forged MAX Yellow Line. In 2005, the
Santas slow-crawled a van through downtown with fruitcake loaded onto a
catapult. Police cars trailed it suspiciously. “If you don’t do one
thing that has the potential to completely fall on its face and one
thing that has the potential for mass arrests, you’ve failed,” says S.W.
Conser, president of KBOO’s board of directors and a longtime Portland
Cacophony Society
organizer.

Lately, the drunken
Santas have entered the mainstream. A company called Stumptown Crawlers
piggybacked on the idea by staging a for-profit Santa crawl—popular with
Beavertonians and Greshamites—that drew more than 1,000 Santas last
year, according to organizers.

Meanwhile, North
Portland Santas were barred from generally laid-back bars, including
beloved pub Saraveza, and the Eater food blog made anti-Santa signs
meant to be printed by area restaurants.

On June 29, a
relatively tame and happy crew attended the Summer Santacon. The cadre
of about 40 is more Burner than barnstormer. On an 84-degree day, the
Santas hold a water-balloon fight in the park at the center of Ladd’s
Addition. After the fight, they pick up every piece of water
balloon—even though organizer Rich Mackin had made sure to buy
biodegradable balloons.

When the group crashes a cast reunion for Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete & Pete,
the cast members happily pull out their iPhones to film the Santas as
they sing the show’s theme song very, very badly. The Santas then
present them with “mutant” gifts—babies stabbed with Barbie legs and
stuffed monkeys with hands where their genitals should be.

For seven hours, the
drunken Santas go from bar to bar, carrying hooch in zipper bags, but
the only flashing lights that greet them come from myriad camera
flashes. As one summer Santa strolls by with hairy male butt cheeks
clenching a red thong, a passerby stops to marvel.

“I guess Portland really is like the TV show,” he says.

Barge In

There’s only one thing Palahniuk says he wishes he’d added to Fugitives and Refugees: barge-launching ceremonies at Gunderson Marine on the Willamette in Northwest Portland.

“When I worked at
Freightliner,” he says, “Gunderson was right across the river. You could
call up and ask when it would be. They’d break a bottle over the barge
and watch it splash down into the water.” Gunderson still launches
between five and nine barges a year. The boats are up to 400 feet long
and take up to six months to build. Hundreds of people sometimes come to
watch a boat slide into the water.

DA BARGE: Kayleigh Taylor busts a Champagne bottle on the poetically named DT 216-7, which will carry wood chips.
IMAGE: Evan Johnson

On
June 30, about 50 came to watch the launch of DT 216-7. According to
Mark Eitzen, general manager of Gunderson Marine, their customer, Dunlap
Towing Company
, prefers to hold a larger ceremony at the company’s home
in Puget Sound. It is a small boat, Eitzen says, only 250 feet long and
meant to transport wood chips. Bagpipes, the traditional soundtrack to a
barge launch, are played on an iPhone. The young woman enlisted to
christen the barge with Champagne stifles a giggle when she completes
the part of her speech that includes “God bless.” Before smashing the
bottle, she holds it in front of the boat in midswing pantomime for the
benefit of the cameras.

The cable is cut and
the massive barge creaks against piles of wood for a few moments before
the sudden shock of its fast slide into the water. It is accompanied by a
tremendous sideways splash that seems dangerous; it’s like a 100-ton
kid on a water slide. The barge takes with it a wreckage of the scrap
wood that had held it aloft on the shoreline. Little boats tow floater
lines around the scrap as the barge twists away from the shore. The
scene looks for all the world like the Gulf of Mexico oil cleanup in
miniature—a subtle reminder that Gunderson is one of the main parties
involved in the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup that remains mired in
negotiations.

The barge drifts awkwardly away, its course still not steady. 


Arts and culture intern Richard Grunert contributed to this story.