In The City

The first time Dan Schaefer went to the City Nightclub—the only all-ages gay dance club in Portland and, at the time, the country—he and his friends spent half an hour dawdling out front, building the nerve to go inside. It was the late ‘80s, and Schaefer, then a high-school sophomore, had an inkling he might be gay, mostly because everyone kept asking if he was. But it wasn’t the fear of confirming his peers’ suspicions that fueled his reluctance: He was intimidated by the guy at the door, collecting the cover.

“We hemmed and hawed,” Schaefer says, “then said, ‘Let’s go in for 15 minutes. If we don’t like it, we’ll bail out, and no one has to know.’ We walked in the door, and I’d never seen two guys kiss before, or just feel comfortable around themselves. It didn’t feel like there were any kind of restraints. It was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve found my home.’ Those 15 minutes turned into the whole rest of the night.” And the rest of the night turned into every weekend for the next decade.

In its heyday,  the City Nightclub functioned somewhere between Studio 54 and Outside In, a space in which kids who had no place else to go could explore and exert their identities. Search for the City online, though, and what little pops up will often refer to the club as “infamous” or “notorious.” Hounded by police and then-Mayor Vera Katz, and beset by accusations ranging from pervasive drug use on the premises to a child pornography ring operating out of its basement, the City, which moved from downtown to the pre-Pearl District during its lifetime, closed in the late ’90s, and is remembered less vividly today as an icon of Old Weird Portland than other alleged dens of iniquity like Satyricon.

But for regulars like Schaefer, the club was more than just a staging area for wild nights out—though that’s certainly part of its legacy. It was where an entire generation learned to be comfortable with themselves.

“Going to the City was like an escape to another planet,” says Kevin Cook, known in the Portland drag community as Poison Waters. “I was where I belonged for those few hours, where I felt like a visitor in my ‘real’ daily life.”

 

If the City lives mostly in infamy, though, that’s fine by owner Lanny Swerdlow.

A government biologist-turned-KBOO gay-issues commentator and then marijuana activist, with a prominent mustache and kooky-uncle demeanor, Swerdlow is a natural-born antagonist. In the beginning, however, he figured he was doing the city a favor. He opened his first all-ages club in 1977, with the intent of giving the dozens of teens who used to hang around a well-known downtown cruising spot something to do other than stand on a street corner. “Overnight, the area was emptied out,” Swerdlow says. “You’d think the city would have appreciated that.” Instead, he was accused of “recruiting for the gay community.” Rumors swirled of older men peering through the windows, preying on young boys as they exited. Church groups gathered in protest across the street. But what annoyed local authorities the most, according to Swerdlow, is that he had given shelter to one of the police’s favorite targets. “The cops were furious because I completely obliterated one of the major ways they used to bust kids,” he says, referring to curfew violations. “That began the war between me and the cops.”

The first iteration of the City opened in 1983, in the carcass of an old motel on Southwest Morrison Street. “It wasn’t fancy, by any means,” Schaefer says. “It was just sort of thrown together.” Still, kids came out in droves, dancing to the Pet Shop Boys and Dead or Alive and more specialized selections, like singles recorded by the drag star Divine. “I used to sit in the club in the corner by myself,” says Alex Broderson, who ended up becoming the City’s in-house DJ. “I’d listen to the music and go home. I did that for three or four months.” It wasn’t the only entertainment option in town for the under-21 crowd. But for Portland’s outcasts, the club was less a nightspot than a second home—and in some cases, their only home. “Lanny treated everyone like they were his own kids,” Schaefer says. “Sometimes, if we didn’t have a place to go, or it got bad enough, he’d let some kids stay in the club overnight.”

In the early ’90s, the City moved to a warehouse on Northwest 13th Avenue, put in a light-up dance floor and began drawing crowds of up to 2,000 on the weekends. As the club’s popularity exploded, Swerdlow seemed to take delight in prodding the conservative establishment. He recorded commercials boasting that the club has been “violating traditional family values since 1983.” He sold shirts declaring, “I Had Sex in the Restroom at the City Nightclub.” Another ad played off Mayor Bud Clark’s famous “Expose Yourself to Art” poster, which, given the underage clientele, had particularly transgressive connotations. But Swerdlow refused to pretend he was running a Bible camp.

 

“You go to any nightclub, it’s infused with sex. And the club was very sexual,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with that, and I didn’t apologize for that. It didn’t make people comfortable.”

But out of the fog of adolescent hormones, a true art scene developed. Every Saturday at midnight, the music would stop for live stage shows—slapdash vignettes that ranged from bizarre art pieces to beauty pageants to detailed, lip-synched re-creations of famous Madonna performances. “I literally had never heard the term ‘drag queen’ or saw one, to my recollection, before entering the City Nightclub,” says Cook, who credits one particular show, involving “four black queens” in white gowns doing a routine to songs from the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, for changing the direction of his life. The club’s impact reverberated beyond just the gay community: John Darnielle, of acclaimed band the Mountain Goats, frequented the City when he briefly lived in Portland as a teenager, and says that, in some ways, his career as indie rock’s poet-laureate was shaped by his experiences there. “The City taught me that it was OK to be who I am,” he says. “There isn’t any more important gift you can give to an artist, or to a person.”

When it was open, the City led a tenuous existence. “We were in fear of losing the club constantly for a good five or six years when I was going,” Schaefer says. Police were a constant presence. In 1996, the city attempted to use its Drug House Ordinance to shutter the club, prompting a 400-person march to City Hall and a short MTV documentary. Eventually, Swerdlow, who’d been battling the cops for 20 years, grew too exhausted to go on. “Trying to fight it was going to cost a fortune, which I didn’t have,” Swerdlow says. “It was cheaper just to close down and reopen.” But his new club in the North Park Blocks, called the Rage, wasn’t open long before an after-hours incident involving a DJ, a 16-year-old and a video camera led to a raid of both the club and his houseboat. Though he was never charged with a crime, Swerdlow had had enough. He sold the club (which continues as Escape, even using the same dance floor) and moved to Palm Springs, where he is a leading figure in California’s pot legalization movement.

 

It was almost just as well that the City petered out when it did, at the dawn of the Internet era, when people could begin to find community at the click of a mouse. Many of its regular patrons, including Schaefer, Cook and DJ Alex Broderson, had already turned 21 and moved on to the bar scene. But if a club like the City isn’t as crucial today as it was back then, that is perhaps the greatest testament to why it mattered in the first place.

“You were almost never home,” Schaefer says. “My family was like, ‘You’re not just coming home and showering and changing your clothes and going back out.’ I’m like, ‘You guys don’t realize. There’s a revolution going on at this gay club.’€™ It was like a whole world inside these two buildings.”

Van Lear Rosebud

ILLUSTRATION: Adam Krueger

Van Lear Rose 

“Well, Portland, Oregon, and sloe gin fizz/ If that ain’t love then tell me what is…” 

In a single stanza of that album’s
signature single, the sloe gin fizz attached itself permanently to
Portland, Oregon, just as the city hopped forward into the national
consciousness.

While “Portland, Oregon” deserves neither
credit nor blame for all that’s since happened to fair Puddletown, it’s
pretty hard to argue against the song as de facto civic anthem—like “I
Love L.A.” or “New York, New York”—and it’s rather more difficult to
find a Portlander who’s not a fan, however grudgingly.

But why would a son of Detroit and a daughter of Kentucky
sing of Portland in the first place? Why sloe gin fizz? And where in the
hell can you order it “by the pitcher and not by the glass”?

We decided to look at three contenders—the then-relevant
Shanghai Tunnel, the long-shuttered Flower Drum and the possibility that
it’s just a passive-aggressive revenge fantasy.


The Case for Shanghai Tunnel

While Lynn has played through town only a
handful of times in the past few decades, Jack White has been a regular
visitor, and evidently maintains some kinship with the tune and the
town. “Portland, Oregon” opened Dead Weather’s 2010 set at the Crystal
Ballroom
, led the encore for his solo show at Theater of the Clouds two
years back and will surely be heard this week at McMenamins Edgefield.

One of White’s first local appearances was in spring 2001. With the White Stripes’ second album, De Stijl,
slowly making the rounds, only a few dozen celebrants were on hand at
Berbati’s Pan, and the reception felt strained between gals thrilled by
his preternatural presence onstage and the rocker faithful grumbling
about the absence of bass.

At the time, adjoining dive Shanghai Tunnel served as
all-purpose green room for Berbati’s and, among other experiments with
grimy lounge-chic fare, some regulars recall a brief flirtation with
small pitchers of sloe gin fizz. In its heyday, Lord knows, the
subterranean confines played host to many rising stars and expressly
aided the indulgence of all conceivable urges. Whatever actually
occurred when White made his pilgrimage to Lynn’s ranch for the initial
round of songcraft—their stated remembrances differ greatly from
interview to interview—mightn’t we suspect the young producer threw out a
few ideas of his own to spark Lynn’s long-dormant songwriting engine?

The counterpunch, of course, is that Lynn, not White, is
credited with writing the song. But make no mistake: “Portland, Oregon”
is a collaboration in the best sense of the word. Lynn’s vocals don’t
even arrive until after more than a minute and a half of simmering
guitar work—playful, sprung, smirky yet respectful of conventions—and
even then, her ageless tones seem stronger when set against his
unashamed reediness. It’s fairly plain the song wouldn’t have existed
without the steady shove of White—and possibly one sodden night at
Shanghai Tunnel.

The Case for the Flower Drum

That said, it’s still Loretta Lynn’s song. So here’s another theory.

The Pacific Northwest has long held its share of
country-music stars. They just tend not to stick around that long.
(Willie Nelson, who recorded his first single at a Portland studio, fled
to Fort Worth, Texas, once the record started selling and remains that
city’s patron saint.) Raised a coal miner’s daughter, Lynn was also a
failed lumberjack’s wife, and she spent more than a decade raising a
family in northern Washington before finding success with her early
band, the Trailblazers.

Between the 1960 release of her first
single, “Honky Tonk Girl,” and her arrival in Nashville as
first-lady-in-waiting, Lynn and her husband, Doolittle or “Doo,” spent
the early ’60s driving between a constant flurry of radio spots and
local bills in a general PR blitz. Portland, purportedly the only U.S.
city with a population below 600,000 to boast two country stations at
that time, would’ve certainly been a target, and country musicians
inevitably found their way to the Flower Drum—an expansive Chinese
restaurant (technically, at least) at Southeast 146th Avenue and
Division Street that served as our premier honky-tonk from 1963 onward
because the Division Street Corral country-music venue, located 25
blocks east, didn’t have a liquor license. Charley Pride, George Strait,
Tammy Wynette and countless others graced the Corral’s stage, and then
filled the Flower Drum’s booths later.

Even after Fred Meyer bought the property
in 1985, the club simply moved across the street, shortened its name,
and sustained an infamous reputation for the best sorts of bad behavior.
Through the ’90s, just about every pair of boots to stroll through town
still frequented the Drum for such decidedly un-Portland attractions as
a mechanical bull, line-dancing classes and—they say—free-flowing
pitchers of sloe gin fizz garnished with four cherries and an orange
slice. 

As should sadly be expected, few records remain of the old
days, and we’ve no way of knowing for sure whether Loretta Lynn ever
entered Portland’s signature country joint or came to associate its
altogether unique drink special with the city itself.

The Case for Holiday Inn

All of this is, clearly, nothing more than speculation.

As it happens, a deep dig into Lynn’s work turns out a
passage about the writing of the song, published before the song was
even released. In her 2002 autobiography, Still Woman Enough, Lynn
describes a daft infidelity prank dreamt up with tourmate Cal Smith at a
Portland Holiday Inn to spoil her husband’s golf vacation. Doo, who
died in 1996, had come to Portland to play in a golf tournament; Lynn
was bored and pissed. She and her bandmate came up with the idea for a
fake affair—she sat down to write the lyrics, and the melody followed.

Since the song became a surprise late-career hit, she’s allowed the mystery to fester.

We choose to believe the song was inspired, if not by true
events—a public tryst between Lynn and White, aged some 40 years apart,
doesn’t seem likely—then by a real place here in town.

If this article is just another exercise
in mythmaking, though, the artists and their subject do lend themselves
to the task. When Jack White first met Loretta Lynn, it was with Meg,
his ex-wife, whom, at the time, he insistently described as his sister.
Recent discoveries about Lynn’s birthdate, for that matter, have laid
bare the still-sorta-startling revelation that she pretended to be three
years younger than her age for nearly half a century, though this
mislabeled her husband a pedophile—albeit one winningly played by Tommy
Lee Jones—for most of his life. 

There are truths and there are truths in
this business we call show, and the Portland, Oregon, that’s grown up in
the shadow of “Portland, Oregon” understands this completely.

“And a pitcher to go…”

SEE IT: Jack White plays McMenamins Edgefield, 2126
SW Halsey St., Troutdale, with Curtis Harding, on Wednesday, Aug. 27.
6:30 pm. Sold out.

Blocked Path

YOUR LYING EYES: A real sign points to what the Japanese Garden and the city say isn’t a real trail.
IMAGE: Rebecca Turley

Japanese Garden

A well-trodden path nestled near the edge of Portland’s Japanese Garden winds into Forest Park, the city’s 5,167-acre urban  green space. A sign reads, “Path to Wildwood Trail,” marking o

But the leafy, ivy-lined path is stirring discord in the West Hills. On Aug. 28, the Japanese Garden and residents of one of Portland’s most affluent neighborhoods will argue before the City Council over what
constitutes an official walking trail.

Their disagreement, however, is much broader. 

The dispute is also about what happens when parties try to decide who should control park land within the city—a well-connected, private nonprofit or taxpayers.

The Japanese Garden and the city’s Bureau of Development Services say the path leading to Wildwood Trail is unofficial—it doesn’t really exist because it’s not on
any map.  

In June, the bureau approved development plans for the garden that would block access to the path. The Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association and neighborhood resident Hilary Mackenzie separately appealed that decision. 

The bureau says the path wasn’t shown in the garden’s application. 

“If it’s not official, then it’s not a map trail,” says Kathleen Stokes, a
representative for the bureau. “How can we review something that doesn’t
exist?”€ 

Mackenzie says that argument is ridiculous. 

“My goal is to get this back in the public realm,” she says. “This is a complicated issue, and there needs to be a full discussion about it.” 

Founded in 1963 and built to accommodate 30,000 visitors annually, the Japanese Garden now attracts 300,000 visitors a year, making it one of the city’s top
tourist attractions.

Garden officials want to construct new buildings beyond the 9.1 acres leased from Portland Parks & Recreation, increasing the garden’s footprint to 12.5 acres. They plan to add new gardens and build a “cultural village,” with an administration building, learning centers, a gallery, a gift store, a garden house, and a tea cafe, more than doubling the square footage of buildings on the property from 10,800 to 22,400 square feet. 

Right now, the “unofficial” trail entrance lies outside the garden. But under the new design, it would give visitors a back-door entry into the Japanese Garden—without paying admission.  

To prevent this, garden officials have proposed just one option: fencing
off the path entrance as part of the 16-month construction project.  

Mackenzie is torn because she loves the Japanese Garden but resents the influence it appears to have with its landlord, the city. 

“This shouldn’€™t be about who’€™s got power and money in Portland,”€ she says.  

Other Arlington neighborhood residents agree. Rather than focusing on the fact that there’s another entrance to the Wildwood Trail just four-tenths of a
mile from the disputed path, they’ve retained Steve Janik, one of Oregon’s top land-use lawyers.  

“This is a public park and should stay a public park,”€ Arlington Neighborhood Association president Susan Siegel says. 

Over the past two years, representatives of the garden held meetings with
the neighborhood to explain its expansion plans. But critics say they
only showed conceptual designs at those meetings. 

“When we first got news of expansion, everybody thought it was more like cherry trees and bushes and water,” Mackenzie says. “We thought, this is great!” 

The neighborhood association OK’d the garden’s plans in March. 

“We were told in March that the neighborhood fully supported the plan,” says Cynthia Haruyama, deputy director of the Japanese Garden Society. “Now they’ve
objected to a whole number of things.” 

Haruyama says it’s the right plan.

“€œSure, [Arlington residents] have ideas, but they are not necessarily viable,”€ she says. 

The City Council can uphold, overturn or amend the garden’s expansion plans after Thursday’s hearing.  

Mackenzie holds out hope that the City Council will decide parks belong to the people rather than private nonprofits.  

“It’s not free real estate that people can develop if they have the right connections,” Mackenzie says. “If you want development in parks, it should be a big, public process.”

The 50 Plates: 50 Distinctive Foods from 50 States in Portland Restaurants

CHIL OUT: New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburger at The Goose. chrisryanphoto.com

1. Alabama

Fried green tomatoes at Bernie’s Southern Bistro, 2904 NE Alberta St., 282-9864, berniesbistro.com.

Fried Green Tomatoes, the 1991 movie, is based on
Irondale, Ala.’s Whistle Stop Cafe, which still makes a mess o’ maters.
Bernie’s version is buttery but still fresh and light. More.

2. Alaska

Alaskan reindeer sausage sandwich at Beez Neez, 440 SW 3rd Ave., 547-7213, beezneezsausages.com.

Mmmmm, Rudolph. More.

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3. Arizona

Chimichanga at Taqueria Portland, 820 SE 8th Ave., 232-7000.

Someone in Arizona—Phoenix’s Macayo’s and Tucson’s El
Charro both make claims—accidentally dropped a fully stuffed burrito
into a deep fryer. Eventually, actual Mexicans started making this
staple, as you’ll find at this inner-Southeast taqueria. More.

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4. Arkansas

Fried pickles at Crown Q, 445 NE Killingsworth St., 281-0373, crownqmarket.com.

Bernell “Fatman” Austin of Atkins, Ark., started
battering, frying and selling pickles out of his Duchess Drive In in
1963. The family still has a secret recipe, served only at the Atkins
Picklefest. Crown Q does a nice version with sliced dill and creamy
sauce for $5. More.

5. California

Korean tacos at Koi Fusion, various locations, koifusionpdx.com.

The version of the Korean taco we know came from the
nation’s most diverse city, Los Angeles, where in 2008 chef Roy Choi
began stuffing corn tortillas with beef bulgogi and barbecued short
ribs. Portlander Bo Kwon opened Koi Fusion in May 2009, with a concept The New York Times described as “borrowed from Mr. Choi’s in the manner that 50 Cent sampled Biggie Smalls.” More.

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6. Colorado

Coma pot brownie at Pure Oregon Dispensary, 2410 N Mississippi Ave., 954-3902, pomeds.com.

Colorado will forever be known as the first state to serve
up legal weed brownies as treats instead of medicine. In Oregon,
they’re still medicine. But, as they say, a spoonful of sugar helps it
go down. More.

7. Connecticut

Apizza at Apizza Scholls, 4741 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 233-1286, apizzascholls.com.

Apizza, New Haven’s famous riff on Neapolitan, is often
regarded as the best pizza in the world, with a thin, chewy and tangy
crust that’s cooked hot and fast, often over coal. Apizza Scholls’ pies
come out of a super-hot electric oven crisp but pliable and kissed with
char. After that crust and bright sauce, the toppings are almost
superfluous. More.

8. Delaware

Scrapple at the Woodsman Tavern, 4537 SE Division St., 971-373-8264, woodsmantavern.com.

Scrapple is a relic of colonial days, when people couldn’t
afford to waste meat. It’s a loaf of slurried pig—snout, eyeball, liver
and heart—made mealy with corn and served fried. Nonetheless, the
weekend brunch scrapple served with maple glaze at the Woodsman Tavern
is a remarkably civilized experience. More.

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9. Florida

Key lime pie at Palio, 1996 SE Ladd Ave., 232-9412, palio-in-ladds.com.

Fun fact: Traditionally, cooks didn’t even bake Key lime
pies, simply allowing a chemical reaction between sweetened condensed
milk and acidic citrus juice to cook the eggs, like a meringue ceviche.
The best we’ve had in town is cooked by a mysterious couple and
delivered to this wonderful little Ladd Circle coffeehouse three times a
week. More.

10. Georgia

Brunswick stew at A Little Bit of  Smoke food cart, Southwest 9th Avenue and Alder Street.

A tangy, spicy, smoky, one-pot meat dish with beans,
tomatoes and corn, all simmered in stock, Brunswick stew makes
appearances at church suppers and hunting camps throughout the South.
The hearty $7 version at this downtown food cart has smoked chicken and
potatoes. And they even throw in a mini moon pie. More.

11. Hawaii

Plate lunch at L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, 4328 SE 82nd Ave., No. 1500, 200-5599, hawaiianbarbecue.com.

The plate lunch isn’t authentic Hawaiian, but it’s what
you get after a trip to the beach. There’s white rice and/or macaroni
salad with meat, usually pork, katsu or teriyaki beef or chicken.
L&L actually comes from the islands, with restaurants in every
neighborhood on O’ahu. More.

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12. Idaho

P.R. Nelson milkshake at Blueplate Lunch Counter, 308 SW Washington St., 295-2583, eatatblueplate.com.

This old-school diner blends ice cream made with Idaho’s
state fruit, the huckleberry, with housemade Purple Haze hibiscus syrup
for a shockingly sweet shake, with bits of fruit skin and a mountain of
whipped cream. More.

13. Illinois

Italian beef at Bridge City Pizza, 5412 SE Woodstock Blvd., 777-4992, bridgecitypizza.com.

This staple of Chicago’s South Side is a thin-sliced,
sauteed roast beef sandwich drenched in meat-dripping “jus,” with
giardiniera hot peppers on top. Bridge City’s comes wetter than an
otter’s pocket, and chock-full of meat and jus that’s been prepped for
days. Hunch forward or plan on changing your shirt. More.

14. Indiana

Pork tenderloin sandwich at the Burger Guild, 4926 SE Division St., 401-287-4373, theburgerguild.com.

According to legend, Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, Ind.,
was the first to make this spaceship of a sandwich. It features a large,
buttermilk-soaked, breaded pork cutlet that extends well beyond the bun
meant to house it. This cart’s version has everything Indiana’s does
except tomatoes. More.

15. Iowa

Maytag blue cheese at Cheese Bar, 6031 SE Belmont St., 222-6014, cheese-bar.com.

Acclaimed by some as America’s finest blue cheese, the
Maytag’s first “wheels” were made in 1941 at Maytag Dairy Farms in
Newton, Iowa, with homogenized cow’s milk instead of sheep’s milk.
Cheese Bar’s Steve Jones serves it with pride: His father used to work
at Maytag Dairy Farms. More.

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16. Kansas

Meat Lover’s pizza at Pizza Hut, various locations, pizzahut.com.

The famous barbecue comes from Missouri, sorry. Kansas
invented not a food but a means of producing it—from the first
train-supplied chain restaurant, Harvey House, to the original White
Castle, to Pizza Hut in 1958. To this day, when you call Pizza Hut for
delivery, you’re actually calling a Kansas call center. Kansas? Are you
there? Please bring extra peppers. More.

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17. Kentucky

The Double Down at KFC, various locations, kfc.com.

Two strips of bacon, two slices of cheese and some of the
Colonel’s secret sauce sandwiched between two fried chicken fillets in
lieu of bread. Lick as you may, your fingers will never again be clean. More.

18. Louisiana

Beignets at the Parish, 231 NW 11th Ave., 227-2421, theparishpdx.com.

Beignets are a deep-fried Creole dessert pastry that are
light, airy and covered with heaps of powdered sugar that, when inhaled
through the mouth, will induce coughing fits in novice tourists. The
Parish’s Sunday brunch beignets are the closest you’ll get in Portland
to those served at New Orleans landmark Cafe du Monde. More.

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19. Maine

Lobster roll at Maine Street Lobster, 8145 SE 82nd Ave. (Cartlandia pod), 770-480-3437, mainestreetlobstercompany.com.

Maine’s most famous roadside food is wicked simple: a heap
of juicy lobster bits doused in butter and served cold on a toasted
roll. The owners of the Maine Street Lobster cart fly in lobster twice a
week. More.

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20. Maryland

Blue crab cakes at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, 850 SW Broadway, 221-4518, ruthschris.com.

Crab cakes are a secondary religion in Maryland. Only the
plentiful Chesapeake blue crab is in the dish, served as lumps with a
little bit of cracker crust. It’s basically heresy to serve a blue crab
cake in Oregon, where we’re proud of the more delicate flavors of
Dungeness. But Ruth’s Chris has no such pieties—it’ll cost you $10 per
cake. More.

21. Massachusetts

Fried clam strips at the Fishwife, 5328 N Lombard St., 285-7150, thefishwife.com.

Clams are an integral part of summer in coastal New
England, just as important as tall ships, widow’s walks and sipping a
dark ‘n’ stormy next to 10 men in Red Sox caps. The unassuming
Fishwife’s clam basket is a heaping mound of plump fried clams atop
waffle fries, served with generous helpings of tartar sauce, coleslaw
and seasoned ketchup. More.

22. Michigan

Coney dog at Roake’s, 1760 NE Lombard Place, 289-3557; 18019 SE McLoughlin Blvd., Milwaukie, 654-7075.

The “wet” chili has the consistency of pasty biscuits and
gravy, and the bun’s dry, but this 10-inch hot dog has the perfect snap.
You gotta know what matters. Detroit what! More.

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23. Minnesota

Lutefisk at Newman’s Fish Market in City Market, 735 NW 21st Ave., 227-2700, newmansfish.com.

This Nordic dish of cod dried in lye until gelatinous is
loved and hated in Minnesota, where the burg of Madison claims to be our
nation’s lutefisk capital, and where the dish is popular in church
basements. It seems to be more texture than taste, at least the way we
cooked it. More.

24. Mississippi

Fried catfish at Miss Kate’s Southern Kitchen, 4233 N Mississippi Ave., 724-7878, misskatessouthernkitchen.com.

Mississippi Avenue is the place for Mississippi cuisine in
Portland. Miss Kate’s food cart owner Charlie Hudes’ Grandma Kate was a
bridge-playing socialite in Vicksburg. She would be proud of his
catfish: The batter is crisp and peppery, while the meat inside is
sweet, white and flaky. More.

25. Missouri

Toasted ravioli at Alameda Brewhouse, 4765 NE Fremont St., 460-9025, alamedabrewing.com.

Created when an Italian chef in the Hill neighborhood of
St. Louis dropped ravioli in hot oil, toasted ravioli in St. Louis means
a plate of big, breaded pasta pillows stuffed with provolone and beef
or veal, served around a bowl of dipping marinara. Alameda’s version
doesn’t have meat, but it’s the only reliable source in town. More.

26. Montana

Elk burger at Deschutes Brewery Portland, 210 NW 11th Ave., 296-4906, deschutesbrewery.com.

Elk is higher in protein than beef, but it doesn’t taste
much different when ground—milder and slightly sweeter. The Deschutes
brewpub serves it on a brioche bun with Gruyere cheese, roasted shallot,
thyme mayo and lettuce. More.

27. Nebraska

Reuben sandwich at Goose Hollow Inn, 1927 SW Jefferson St., 228-7010, goosehollowinn.com.

The mighty Reuben sandwich—rye, kraut, swiss, corned beef
or pastrami, secret sauce—was purportedly invented by Lithuanian
transplant Reuben Kulakofsky of Omaha, Neb., as part of a weekly poker
game from 1920 to 1935. If there’s a 15-year poker game going on with
Reubens in Portland, it’s certainly at Goose Hollow Inn. More.

28. Nevada

Strip-club steak at the Acropolis, 8325 SE McLoughlin Blvd., 231-9611, acropolispdx.com.

It’s hard to beat the sheer Vegas-ness of the “Acrop,” a
legendary strip club with gaudy décor and a convenient highway-side
location. An 8-ounce steak is $6—with baked potato. More.

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29. New Hampshire

Clam chowder at Chowdah in the cart pod at Kruger’s Farm Stand, 7316 N Lombard St., 867-2475.

Even on the hottest days, you’ll find people lined up in
front of Chowdah. The signature soup is creamy, steaming and salty, with
generous chunks of potatoes, bacon and two types of Atlantic clams. More.

30. New Jersey

Pork roll at Tasty N Sons, 3808 N Williams Ave., 621-1400, tastyntasty.com.

This processed-pork product is called a “roll” because a federal law passed the year Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle
was published (1906) stopped Taylor Provisions Company from selling it
as “ham.” In Jersey—and at Tasty N Sons—that pork roll is pan-fried, put
on a hard roll with egg and cheese, then garnished with ketchup and
mustard. More.

31. New Mexico

Green chile cheeseburger at the Blue Goose, 2725 SE Ankeny St., 235-2222.

The green chile cheeseburger best brings New Mexico’s
Latinos, Native Americans and chuckwagon-fare cowboys together on one
plate. The Blue Goose’s thick slab of beef is served on a soft bun with
super-sweet tomato, ground chile peppers and a layer of crispy cheese.
It’s one of the best things we’ve eaten during the course of this whole
crazy 50 Plates project. More.

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32. New York

Buffalo wings at Fire on the Mountain, 3443 NE 57th Ave., 894-8973, portlandwings.com.

At Buffalo’s Anchor Bar in 1964, someone had the crazy
idea of taking the chicken wings marked for the soup pot and turning
them into an icon. The Anchor Bar’s owner deep-fried them, slathered
them in Frank’s RedHot, and gave birth to an American classic now found
in every town in this big country. More.

33. North Carolina

Pulled pork at Tails & Trotters, 525 NE 24th Ave., 477-8682, tailsandtrotters.com.

Pulled pork is usually served with vinegar-based sauce,
but there’s sort of a civil war being waged in North Carolina whether
the sauce should have ketchup mixed with that vinegar. You needn’t pick
sides. Nonetheless, Tails & Trotters serves its excellent, tender,
vinegared pork with garlic aioli and no ketchup. More.

34. North Dakota

Lefse at Viking Soul Food in the Good Food Here cart pod, 4262 SE Belmont St., vikingsoulfood.com.

Lefse is a thin flatbread made from potatoes, cream and
butter that’s hand-rolled and cooked on a griddle, then served, most
commonly, with butter and sugar. They love them in North Dakota, which
like neighboring Minnesota, is heavily Scandinavian. This cart has crazy
salmon or rhubarb concoctions, but stick to the simple: butter and
sugar. More.

35. Ohio

White Castle sliders, available in the freezer case at Fred Meyer, various locations, fredmeyer.com.

There’s one thing pretty much everyone in Ohio agrees on,
and that’s the burger. It was invented in Akron, and the best burgers
there are small and topped with only rehydrated onions, dill pickle
slices and yellow mustard. Don’t screw around with Portland’s
ketchup-contaminated, fresh-onion sliders. Because those aren’t sliders.
At least not in Ohio. More.

36. Oklahoma

Chicken-fried steak at the Country Cat, 7937 SE Stark St., 408-1414, thecountrycat.net.

Chicken-fried steak is an integral part of Oklahoma’s
insanely complicated state meal—though, like former Sooner football
stars Adrian Peterson and Greg Pruitt, it’s from Texas. The dish is made
with a cheap cut of steak and bread and fried like chicken, then sopped
with gravy. The Country Cat has one with kale on the side. More.

37. Oregon

See here.

 

38. Pennsylvania

Pierogi at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church, 8014 SE 16th Ave., 235-7129, ukrainian-church-pdx.org.

Pierogi are Eastern European dumplings filled with
potatoes, sauerkraut and/or meat, widely available back in the Rust
Belt. Some very nice ladies sell their own from the basement of this
Sellwood church every Saturday from 11 am to 2 pm. They’re $7 a dozen
(cash only), served hot with sour cream and caramelized onions, or
frozen to go. More.

39. Rhode Island

Coffee milk made with Dave’s Coffee Syrup at Quin, 1022 W Burnside St., 971-300-8395, quincandy.com.

Little Rhody has, mile for mile, double the number of
exotic foodstuffs found in any other state—pizza strips, gaggers,
johnnycakes, stuffed quahogs—none of which makes it past Woonsocket.
Make your own version of its official state beverage with an $11 bottle
of coffee syrup, basically a hyper-sweet coffee concentrate. More.

40. South Carolina

Shrimp and grits at Bernie’s Southern Bistro, 2904 NE Alberta St., 282-9864, berniesbistro.com.

Coastal fishermen—particularly in Charleston, S.C.—have
been waking up and frying “breakfast shrimp” in bacon grease and tossing
them on grits for generations. South Carolina even named it the
official state food. Bernie’s offers a wonderfully piquant take on the
dish—albeit after traditional breakfast time, since Bernie’s opens at 4
pm. More.

41. South Dakota

Fry bread at Teepee’s food truck, 4926 SE Division St., 971-777-1315.

Native American author Sherman Alexie called this
deep-fried staple “the story of our survival” because it helped stave
off starvation on the long walks to, and lean years in, reservations.
It’s the official state bread of South Dakota, which has a huge Sioux
population. More.

42. Tennessee

Nashville hot chicken at Cackalack’s Hot Chicken Shack in the Good Food Here cart pod, 4262 SE Belmont St., 891-8093.

Authentic Nashville hot fried chicken is hot. Very, very
hot. Not warm, not
spicy—sweat-pours-out-of-your-ears-dear-God-don’t-touch-your-eyes fiery.
And that’s if you order “medium.” No one in Portland is attempting real
hot chicken, but this is the closest you’ll find. More.

43. Texas

Frito pie at Podnah’s Pit, 1625 NE Killingsworth St., 281-3700, podnahspit.com.

Podnah’s Pit makes a killer Texas red chili—so spicy, so
beefy—and then Rodney Muirhead honors Lone Star tradition by making an
authentic in-bag Frito pie. Because if you’re using a bowl, you might as
well piss on the Alamo. More.

44. Utah

Pastrami burger at Kenny & Zuke’s, 1038 SW Stark St., 222-3354, kennyandzukes.com.

Nick Zukin, who has probably eaten more hamburgers than
any man in Portland, went to Utah for the model of Kenny & Zuke’s
burger: the pastrami-topped, fry-sauced monstrosity invented by the
Greek family who ran Crown Burgers in Salt Lake City. More.

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45. Vermont

Phish Food ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s, various locations, benjerry.com.

Here’s everything Vermont is famous for (jam bands, Ben & Jerry’s, fudge) in one scoop. More.

46. Virginia

Virginia country ham at the Bent Brick, 1639 NW Marshall St., 688-1655, thebentbrick.com.

Virginia’s famous country hams are from peanut-fed pigs,
salt-cured for months and then aged until they’re a true New World
prosciutto. The Woodsman Tavern and the Bent Brick both order from the
highly regarded Edwards Country Hams in Surry. At the Bent Brick, it
comes prosciutto-thin on a swanky board. More.

47. Washington

Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino at Starbucks, various locations, starbucks.com.

Once home to Nirvana, Singles and Windows 95,
Seattle is now known for Macklemore, Amazon warehouses and this
coffee-dusted milkshake with “rich mocha sauce, vanilla syrup, and
Frappuccino® chips, blended together with Frappuccino® roast, milk, and
ice. Topped with chocolaty whipped cream and Chocolate Cookie Crumbles.” More.

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48. West Virginia

Pepperoni rolls at East Glisan Pizza Lounge, 8001 NE Glisan St., 971-279-4273, eastglisan.com.

Southern Italians who came for the opportunity to work in
Appalachian coal mines invented this basic dish: salty, greasy pepperoni
baked in puffy dough until the bright red spices soak into the bread.
East Glisan’s version is stingy with the pepperoni, but the best you’ll
find in town. More.

49. Wisconsin

Cheese curds at Savoy Tavern, 2500 SE Clinton St., 808-9999, savoypdx.com.

Originally a byproduct of the
cheesemaking process, these bite-sized globules of salty, springy cheese
became a staple of Wisconsin’s state fair and now make for a nice
happy-hour snack.
More.

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50. Wyoming

Bison burger at Buffalo Gap, 6835 SW Macadam Ave., 244-7111, thebuffalogap.com.

Where the buffalo don’t roam no more. South Portland’s
40-year-old Buffalo Gap has buffalo wings, its own barrel-aged Buffalo
Trace bourbon and the option to make any of its stacked, half-pound
burgers with bison instead of beef.  More.

Ripe: Marion is the Berry We’ve Been Waiting For

The 50 Plates: 50 States’ Distinctive Foods in Portland Restaurants

 Mari Me: Portland’s Marionberry Dishes

 What Makes a  Marionberry a Marionberry?

 Our Campaign Plans to Make Marionberries the  Oregon State Food

 

Pennsylvania Maine Louisiana Texas West Virgina Nevada NC Colorado Alaska Mississippi Washington Minnesota Tennessee Nebraska Missouri Massachusetts Michigan Wisconsin Ohio Arizona south carolina newyork Connecticut rhode island Wyoming New Mexico Kentucky Idaho alabama new jersey georgia kansas california iowa montana oklahoma indiana vermont hawaii utah arkansas maryland Virginia oregon Illinois Florida New Hampshire South Dakota Delaware North Dakota

By Martin Cizmar, Matthew Korfhage, Tree Palmedo, Katherine Marrone, Rebecca Jacobson, Adrienne So, Matthew Singer, Pete Cottell, Mary Romano, Ap Kryza, Aaron Spencer and John Locanthi. 

 

How to Dance Like Future Islands: An Animated Guide

BY MICHAEL MANNHEIMER

On a Monday night in early March, everything changed for Future Islands. The Baltimore synth-pop trio was in New York to make its national television debut on the Late Show With David Letterman, performing “Seasons (Waiting on You),”€ the first single from its new record, Singles, when singer Samuel Herring lowered his hips, held one hand in the air like a beacon and unleashed a series of dance moves that set the Internet ablaze.

Though the Letterman appearance made Future Islands more of a household name, the reality is that the band, rounded out by keyboardist-programmer Gerrit Welmers and bassist-guitarist William Cashion, has been one of the most reliable live acts in indie rock for years, and Herring’s magnetic stage presence is a big reason why. For anyone looking to get down with him at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, here’s an illustrated guide to his three signature moves (GIFs by Leo Zarosinski). 

Future Islands plays 5:25 pm Aug. 16, at MusicfestNW.

THE SQUAT-AND-WOBBLE


THE I-TOUCH-MYSELF

How Girl Talk’s Gregg Gillis went from arthouse flop to hosting the party of a generation

PARTY ON, GREGG: Girl Talk headlining Pioneer Courthouse Square at MusicfestNW in 2012/chrisryanphoto.com

 

Gregg Gillis is used to arguing about music—just not at dinner. But the waiter at this old-school Steel City Italian restaurant insists.

“Is Pittsburgh really a rap city?” the waiter asks, jumping into the table’s conversation while refilling water.

Gillis—underdressed even for this casual restaurant, with blue mesh Nike basketball shorts, a red hoodie and Air Jordan 3s—looks up from his sausage, greens and cannellini beans. He’s a regular at Zarra’s, and the 32-year-old producer best known as Girl Talk reacts without any hint of annoyance.

“It’s got two famous rappers from here right now,” Gillis says without hesitation. “Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller.”

“Mac Miller’s white, though,” says the waiter. “Really, he’s a rapper?”

“He’s a rapper,” Gillis deadpans.

Unfailingly polite, Gillis can get defensive when it comes to music, especially if it’s being dismissed without being understood. Because he’s often been misunderstood. The leading practitioner of sample-based electronic music on the planet (he has a T-shirt that reads “I’m Not a DJ”), Girl Talk’s sonic tapestries have made Gillis a sought-after headliner everywhere from Coachella to this weekend’s MusicfestNW, where he’s playing Saturday night at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. But back in his hometown, servers are ready to argue with him.

“Wiz Khalifa, they gave him his own day…I couldn’t believe it,” the waiter says. “Didn’t he just promote kids that killed a bunch of people, stabbed somebody?”

“He definitely didn’t promote kids who stabbed anybody. But they also give days every day to about 10 different people,” says Gillis, who received his own such day on Dec. 7, 2010, from the Pittsburgh City Council.

“Really? I mean, I’m not knocking his hustle—congratulations, you made it in life—I’m just not that big on violence, hurting people, and drugs,” the
waiter says.

“He doesn’t really talk about violence,” Gillis responds. “He definitely talks about weed.”

“Well, there’s nothing wrong with weed,” says the waiter.

Donny, who owns the restaurant, interjects.

“How was everything?” he asks.

***

For a guy who’s played to audiences of 100,000, Gillis is remarkably faceless. He’s not exactly low-profile, having been featured in The New York Times Magazine and on NPR; he is a fixture on Pitchfork and was the centerpiece of a 2008 documentary about digital copyright. But on the same day he performed at Coachella 2014, with Paul McCartney onstage dancing next to him, Gillis could be found earlier in the polo fields, watching other acts with fans. “It’s funny, I just blend into the crowd once I’m offstage,” he says.

That may be because fans are too busy dancing or dodging confetti and toilet paper to look too carefully at the man behind the laptop. Girl Talk shows feature live mixes of his intricate collages, which are made almost entirely of samples: nine seconds of Portishead plus 16 seconds of Miley Cyrus with the guitar hook from the Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein”€ and a Jadakiss verse. If that sounds like a neat party trick, live it looks more like a bumpin’™ block party with Nicki Minaj playing on the street where you grew up—€”nostalgia and discovery wrapped into one immaculately mixed package.

By design, his creations are genre-agnostic and blend the critically beloved (Radiohead) with the arguably disposable (“Teach Me How to Dougie”). To Gillis, that’€™s the whole point. H”e’€™s always been a proud pop iconoclast, starting in high school when he’€™d see the Spice Girls in concert one night, then work the merch booth for an avant-garde electronic act the next.

“€œPeople are really scared to like the wrong things,”€ Gillis says. “€œThere’€™s these lines that are drawn: this is smart, this is dumb, this is good, this is bad. You don’€™t like this thing because you don’t like the fans of the band, which to me is a bad way to go about it. That’s the enemy of music.”

Over the course of a decade, Gillis went from being an arthouse freak to an unlikely festival headliner. His next step seems to be becoming a legitimate producer in the pop world.

IMAGE: Andrew Strasser

 

The house where Gillis lives with girlfriend Kendall Bieselt; his beagle-basset mix, Wally; and Chloe, also known as “€œCollective Soul Cat,”€ who scored 4.5 million YouTube views meowing along to “€œShine,”€ sits on the side of a hill in Pittsburgh’€™s well-worn Polish Hill neighborhood. The local watering hole is Gooski’€™s, which serves breakfast pierogi, still allows smoking and sells six-packs to go. Gillis doesn’€™t smoke, but he loves the vibe, and the Buzzcocks-heavy jukebox.

Polish Hill’s ubiquitous speckled-brick row houses typically have “œno loitering” signs in front yards and clotheslines in back. Everywhere, there is a view of a massive Catholic cathedral €”seemingly one of Pittsburgh’s few big, old churches that hasn’€™t been turned into a club or brewery. About a mile away is the largely black Hill District, where playwright August Wilson chronicled a century of African-American life, winning two Pulitzers.

Gillis is aware of that dichotomy—he’™s a white kid from the suburbs who makes his living partly by repurposing black music. It’€™s probably why he’€™s willing to argue about the value of “Black and Yellow” rapper Wiz Khalifa, the only man in town who can rival the Steelers as a topic of conversation.

From a barstool at Gooski’€™s, where he’€™s drinking an Iron City Light with a scowling Pittsburgh Pirate on the label, Gillis talks about showmanship, an art he’€™s been working on since he turned from heel to face.

“€œIf Wu-Tang shows up on time, for me that sucks,”€ he says. “€œIt’€™d be like going to see the Sex Pistols, and Johnny Rotten being nice to everyone. They’€™re performing, and part of the performance is when they show up and the crowd waiting for them.”

Gillis knows how to work his crowd—€”he’€™s been doing it for almost 20 years, €”though his technique has evolved drastically since he was a high-school music geek stirring up trouble. Gillis tweaks his set almost every night, and before taking the stage, he demos the set with a laptop, reviewing everything he plans to play with his lighting guy and the hype men who fire toilet paper from the stage with leaf blowers.

***

He started on this path at Lollapalooza 1995, the day he met Manny Theiner, a legend of the Pittsburgh underground who was then a writer for the alternative weekly Pittsburgh City Paper. Theiner was there to pass out a zine called Lollapalooza 1995 Does Not Present Pittsburgh’€™s Guide to Underground Music to kids who came for a taste of counterculture.

“€œA couple of the kids who picked it up are still around doing important stuff today,” Theiner says. “€œGregg picked up the flier, I guess. I don’€™t remember meeting him until he came and asked to start playing with his band.”

Theiner, ”a notoriously prickly electronic-music junkie and jazzhead who still runs a venue in Pittsburgh and peppers conversation with frequent references to obscure artists he’€™s embarrassed you’ve never heard of, like the Evolution Control Committee (“Mark Gunderson? He did that Public Enemy over Herb Alpert thing”€) and Otto von Schirach (“€œplayed with Skinny Puppy a bunch”€) €”took Gillis under his wing and on tour.

“€œTo him, it really boiled down to ‘I really like this Top 40 shit,”€ Theiner says of Gillis. “€œHe didn’€™t sit down to write some postmodernist thesis, he just embodied it. It represents his culture—€”he has two sides. One, he really was a music nerd. Two, he really liked pop songs.”

Gillis found himself a regular at Theiner’s Millvale Industrial Theater and palling around with a slightly older local band called Operation Reinformation, a Devo-esque electronica act that influenced Girl Talk’s wild laptop-fueled shows. Gillis and his friend Richard Saporito started a
band in the same vein, the Joysticks Battle the Scanned Feed Relay to
Your Skull, and started doing shows with earsplitting noise loops,
smashable flea-market televisions and smoke bombs.

The Joysticks’s biggest moment came at the Chartiers Valley High School talent show in 2000. Wise to the act, teachers were ready to shut down the show at the first whiff of smoke. Instead, the Joysticks wired their speakers to the PA, put on an hourlong noise loop and stood onstage in borrowed hazmat suits as a slow strobe blinked behind them. In a YouTube video of the incident, the crowd grows increasingly agitated for almost 10 minutes until a teacher cuts the sound and lights. In the dark theater, part of the crowd chants, “Encore!”€; the rest chants, “€œBoring.”€ At the end, a teacher pronounces it “horrible.”

To Gillis, it’s a career highlight with a lesson.

“The guys who were in rock bands really hated us—€”kids who grew up really playing and knowing their instruments well,” he says. “€œI’€™m still not playing instruments. You could really hate what I’m doing. I almost feel like I gave them really good fodder to hate me now more than ever. ‘€˜He doesn’t play anything! He’™s sampling music and violating copyrights!’€™ It’€™s crazy because so much has gone on, so much crazy shit has happened, but I still think about that night.”

***

Girl Talk was born a year later, when Gillis went to college at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. For the first time, he had a fast Internet connection, which he used to lard his hard drive with music—€”everything from Squarepusher to Christina Aguilera.

Though he was studying biomedical engineering, he made friends at the
neighboring art school. He worked on music in his dorm room, then booked his first Girl Talk show at the basement coffee shop at Chatham
University in Pittsburgh. There’€™d been some confusion: It ended up being a showcase of female acts.

Those early shows bear only a passing resemblance to today’€™s Girl Talk concerts.

“€œThere’™d be a big introduction, I’d glitch out a Britney Spears song and make a wall of noise, then run back and do an outfit change,”€ Gillis says. “€œMy friends and I liked experimental noise, but we also watched a lot of MTV.”

In 2002, Gillis released his first album as Girl Talk. Secret Diary is experimental and confrontational, featuring Papa Roach sliced into blip-blops with a beat. Young Girl Talk fans who seek out his early work are often unimpressed—especially those who ignore the two-star rating and buy it for $6.99 on Amazon.

Two years later, Gillis got the first inkling that he might make music for people outside the arthouse scene. First, he walked into his favorite pizza shop to find they were actually playing his second album, Unstoppable. Then, he was asked to DJ in Brussels, for a club that requested a continuous 20-minute set.

“€œI was tearing my shirt off and doing Nirvana covers—€”it didn’€™t go over well,” he says.

But the idea of doing his set as one “really technical megamix”€ stuck. Gillis decided he’d do that for the next album and told his friends and family, none of whom was excited about the idea.

***

That next album was 2006’s Night Ripper, which proved to be his breakthrough. In the meantime, he graduated from college, got a desk job and continued with his arthouse act. In one of the last Girl Talk shows before he exploded, Gillis karaoked Pantera’€™s “€œWalk”€ (“€œAre you talking to me?/ARE YOU TALKING TO ME?!”€) five times in a row.

Then, suddenly, he became a success, thanks to a glowing review on Pitchfork. Night Ripper “€œabsolutely detonates the notions of mash-up,”€ the music blog of record wrote, as Gillis “€œpieces together the voracious music fan;€™s dream: a hulking hyper-mix designed to make you dance, wear out predictable ideas, and defy hopeless record-reviewing.”

Girl Talk’€™s next big show, in New York, was sold out. Natalie Portman showed up.

“I had a chip on my shoulder about the new instant love,”€ Gillis says. “I’€™d been on my grind, and it’€™s like, ‘€˜Why does everyone now like it all of a sudden? I’€™ve got a lot of critical love, and it’€™s helped me, but I still think
it can be a really negative thing, that groupthink.”

Onstage, that manifested itself as petulance, with Gillis throwing drinks on people and insulting the crowd. “€œI was always trying to warm up such a cold crowd, and it was never working,”€ he says. “€œAll of a sudden it became warm, and I was like, ‘I can’€™t just accept this, it feels wrong.”€™ I
remember my friends were like, ‘You need to cool it out, that was really
dark.'”€

The excitement was heightened by the specter of legal trouble. Back then, everyone assumed Gillis would be sued for copyright infringement. The New York Times called his music “a lawsuit waiting to happen.”€ It never did—Gillis has never been sued, though he gets asked about it every day. Instead, he’€™s settled into life as a studio rat and headliner for sunbaked summer festivals—€”and recently, he’€™s started to further explore the pop universe beyond his bubble.

MY BLOCK: Polish Hill, the Pittsburgh neighborhood where Gregg Gillis lives.

Right now, everything in Gillis’€™ life seems pretty comfortable. He’€™s got a routine, just like the men in dirty jeans who congregate around a cooler at a neighboring house, which has been gutted for use as a workshop.

“€œThese guys are holding it down so hard,”€ he says. “€œThey pound beers all day, but they get shit done.”

Gillis has always been a night owl, usually sleeping until 1 pm, then working until 5 am. Left to his own devices, he’€™ll put in 14-hour days, stopping only to microwave a Lean Cuisine, shoot hoops at the park or play Nintendo.

Even 16-bit video games are subject to his obsessive mind: Gillis and his friend J.P., also an engineer by training, play NBA Jam as the Golden State Warriors (“€œI’™m always Tim Hardaway, a defensive specialist”€) while listening to Juicy J’€™s Rubba Band Business Mixtape 2. They call out numbered plays, with the goal of blowing out the computer
100-0.

“€œYou’€™re not supposed to be able to blow out the computer with
assist mode on, since it makes you miss your shots, but we did,”€ Gillis
says.

His secondary goal is to not wake up girlfriend Bieselt, who runs a boutique on the south side of Pittsburgh and is the nanny to two small children. She’€™s into emo and has a tattoo of Jimmy Eat World lyrics. Like Gillis, she’s notably indifferent to what’s considered cool.

“€œI’ve never been aiming to hit that cool new sound,”€ Gillis says. “I’€™ve always wanted to exist in my own lane. In 2006, I was that cool thing. That was never the goal, and I think you can see that from the beginning. Now, this project exists on its own terms. It’s not really cool, it’s not uncool, it’€™s just its own thing.”

Getting there meant getting through the whole cycle of popularity: first hipsters, then bros, then kids. Now, there’s a whole group of longtime fans who bootleg shows and can tell when he’s played something new. He hasn’€™t dropped a new album in four years, and he’€™s sitting on more material than ever.

The new album won’€™t come out until he thinks it’€™s flawless.

But that doesn’™t mean Gillis isn’€™t open to new and different projects.

He recently collaborated with Freeway, a Philadelphia rapper left in the lurch when Jay-Z’€™s label imploded, and who’€™s widely considered underrated and underplayed.

For their six-song, 18-minute EP, Broken Ankles, released earlier this year, Gillis asked Freeway to redo some verses five or six times until they were as tight as possible before matching them to his beats. It was a nice break—€”because compared to a Girl Talk album, basic production is easy.

Gillis gets a glimmer in his eye when discussing the potential for producing a radio hit—€”perhaps the ultimate evolution for the talent-show flop-turned-coffeehouse iconoclast-turned-festival headliner.

“It could definitely happen,”€ says Freeway. “œHe’™s good, man. I mean, I’€™m sitting on a bunch of material that was great but didn’€™t fit the EP.”

Theiner, Gillis’€™ old mentor, is more skeptical.

“€œWhat would Girl Talk have to do to be an actual pop star?”€ he asks. “€œWell, he’d have to get played on the radio like everyone else; he’€™d have to get featured in major media outlets besides Pitchfork and The New York Times. If he’€™s going to function in that world, he’€™s got to be more of a Timbaland and less of a mash-up guy.”

Which, someday, he might. “€œI love pop music, so making a hit would be so fucking cool,”€ Gillis says.

More than anything, though, he’€™s excited for the day when he no longer likes pop music, when he’€™s the old man at the Italian restaurant griping about the kids today.

“€œI’€™m always excited for the walls to crumble,”€ he says. “€œWho’€™s going to break the rules and take it to the next level? That’€™s the thing that gets me excited about music. I’m looking forward to being so out of touch and like, ‘€˜I don’€™t get this at all!'”€ 

 

Transgender At 10

People move to Portland for all sorts of reasons—a new job, the pace of life, the outdoors. Albert and Leigh came for an entirely different purpose.

Three months ago, they left the Everglades and their extended family because they have a 10-year-old daughter who was born a boy. And they were convinced that Portland was the best place to raise her.

Their child, whose name has been legally changed from Reed to Lynne, is a hyper kid with a wide grin and gangly limbs.

One minute Lynne dangles from her mother’s neck, the next she sucks down tubes of fruit-flavored yogurt, swings from the ledge of the family’s living room loft and chases their Jack Russell terrier, Storm. Then, laughing, she shoves a stuffed animal into the frozen jaws of a taxidermy alligator head her family brought with them when they moved from Florida.

Lynne collapses on the couch, exhausted, her gangly tanned legs and knobby knees stretched out on a makeshift coffee table. Her long brown locks hang in the classic unruly tangle of youth.
Albert looks at his daughter, slouched carefree on the couch watching cartoons after an afternoon swim in the Columbia River, and his eyes well up.
He almost lost her in his determination to force his son to act like a boy.
“It got to the point where she didn’t want anything to do with me,” Albert says. “I had this expectation. I was going to make sure we would change this.”
Seven years ago, few mainstream doctors could have told Albert and Leigh what was really going on when their toddler began showing a strong preference for dresses and dolls.
“There just hasn’t been much focus on it before,” says Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. “We’ve had 60 years of research on sex orientation. Maybe five years on gender identity research. On children, we’ve had even less.”
But in the past few years, American medicine has transformed its attitudes about helping kids express their true gender even as research is still in its infancy.
And Portland is becoming a hub for families like Lynne’s.
Oregon is one of only a handful of places—including California, Washington, D.C., Colorado and Vermont—that bans private insurance companies from outright exclusions of transgender care. That stems from a 2007 state law banning discrimination against transgender people.
This June, the Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel launched the T-Clinic, where pediatric endocrinologist Karin Selva sees dozens of transgender adolescents. She’s enlisted the help of psychologist Laura Edwards-Leeper, who developed the country’s first protocol for assessing transgender youth.
Edwards-Leeper hired on at Pacific University in 2012 and hopes to develop a training program on transgender youth at the university’s School of Professional Psychology.
“Most people don’t get it. Dealing with school, telling their friends, parents, teachers, figuring out which bathroom to use,” says Edwards-Leeper. “Portland is a great place for this.”
Even in Portland, the practical difficulties for parents raising a transgender child are daunting—maybe the most challenging parenting imaginable. But first comes a tremendous leap of accepting something your own eyes tell you isn’t true. It requires faith: a trust in the word of your child.
Medicine has advanced at a rapid pace, but a father’s feelings aren’t so easy to change.
Albert had to travel a lot further than 3,000 miles before he got in the car.


Albert and Leigh agreed to talk to WW as long as the newspaper didn’t use their full names.

Albert grew up in Miami in a large Puerto Rican family. He
joined the Coast Guard out of high school, then took a job as a
dispatcher with the Florida Highway Patrol. During his free time,
Albert—with thick arms and strong legs—and his buddies dressed in
camouflage, hunted alligators, drove airboats and posed for photos with
boa constrictors draped around their necks.

“He’s a man’s man,” his sister-in-law Nicole explains.

He was also raised a conservative. It doesn’t matter the candidate; he voted red.

He met Leigh when they both worked as dispatchers for the Florida Highway Patrol.

Albert and Leigh married at a small ceremony with Leigh’s
young son, Christopher, by their side. After two miscarriages and a
high-risk pregnancy, they gave birth to Reed in June 2004. 

As soon as Reed could walk, he tottered into his mother’s closet, pulling on T-shirts as if they were dresses and climbing into her high heels. 

He swapped out his blue pacifier for his cousin’s pink one and developed a fascination for mermaids. During weekly trips to the Super Wal-Mart near their home, Reed would pull princess dresses from the racks. 

“We couldn’€™t keep his hands off anything that sparkled,”€ Albert says. 

Albert finally gave in and allowed the toddler to hold girl toys while he sat in the
shopping cart. But at the checkout counter, Reed would scream and kick as Albert pried a Disney princess doll from his son’s hands.

They thought it was a phase—at first. They had no daughters and no girl toys in the house, but Reed would find anything feminine, including Leigh’s pink Nike running shoes. When he visited his girl cousins, he played with dolls and dressed in their princess costumes. 

Leigh wasn’t concerned. 

“Maybe because it was a difficult pregnancy, and I knew I wanted him no matter what,” she says. “Maybe that made it easier. I wasn’t embarrassed. I wasn’t ashamed. Even going to the store and buying the things he liked, that didn’t bother me one bit.”

Albert, however, was embarrassed and grew increasingly frustrated.

“I didn’t want people to think I was encouraging that or causing that. I didn’t want people to think it was because of us,” Albert says. “I started to push back, you know? Enough’s enough.”

By the time Reed turned 3, Albert had banned the color pink, dolls and dress-up. But Reed was already declaring to family and friends that he was a girl.

“I said OK. If he turns out to be gay, OK,” Albert says. “But thinking he’s a girl? How do you do that? Am I going to send my boy to school in a dress?”

About one in every 450 Americans identify as transgender,
according to a 2011 study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School
of Law
. 

 

Even today, “the medical community knows very little about transgenderism,” says Dr. Jack Drescher, a distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric
Association. For many years, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders included a condition called “gender identity disorder,” classifying it
as the discomfort a transgender person feels in his or her body.

Last year, a panel of experts at the APA considered removing the diagnosis from the DSM, as happened with homosexuality in 1974. Instead, they changed the name to “gender dysphoria” but left the diagnosis in place.

Drescher says that the name change was an attempt to destigmatize the condition. “For the DSM, ‘do less harm’ meant changing the language and keeping the diagnosis in so people still have access to care,” he says. “If it’s taken out of DSM, no one would pay for treatment. Without a diagnosis code you can’t get hormones, you can’t get surgery.”

It might seem hard to believe that a preteen, let alone a 2-year-old, would know what gender is or how it is expressed. But the rapidly emerging scientific consensus is that they do.

For Halloween 2007, Reed, then 3, wanted to be a princess. His parents forced him into a Mr. Incredible costume. 

That night, the family gathered at Leigh’s sister’s house in Lake Worth. Reed followed his cousins upstairs. Later, he walked back down beaming, twirling and proudly parading in a Sleeping Beauty costume.

Everyone stared—not at Reed, but at Albert, whose heart was pounding. “I knew they were all looking at me,” Albert says. “I didn’t want to react.”

Not long after, Leigh watched a taped episode of 20/20 featuring transgender kids, and finally realized her son’s “condition” had a name.

“€œIt was so identical to our story,”€ Leigh says. “€œWe’€™re not alone, we’€™re not the only family going through this.”

One of the people interviewed on the show was Dr. Marilyn Volker, a sexologist who worked with transgender youth and lived just 20 miles away, in Hollywood, Fla. Leigh made an appointment.

“I was scared,” Albert says, after he had watched the show and agreed to see Volker. “I knew I needed to know more. I was blaming myself: Did I allow him to play too long with dolls?”

When Reed, his older half-brother, Christopher, and their parents arrived, Volker asked Albert and Leigh to stand aside in a low-lit corner of the office. 

On the other side of the room, a long couch was lined with dolls of all sorts. On one end slouched Chuck, wearing sunglasses and an Army hat. On the other end sat Star, a doll with long silver sparkly hair. Volker asked both children to choose a doll that they thought best represented them, a doll they could keep forever. 

Christopher chose Chuck. Reed beelined for Star.

“At that moment I realized Reed was hardwired,” Albert says. “I realized this wasn’t a phase. But I still didn’t know what to do.”

Volker suggested that they allow Reed some time to express himself. Back at the house, they sat down with Reed and explained the rules.

“We’re going to give you two hours a day to dress however you want,” Albert told his son, forgetting to mention that such self-expression needed to remain indoors. “You can play with whatever you want.”

Reed, then 4, bolted from the room, changed into a dress and headed for the front door. He was halfway down the block before Albert could start after him.

Albert ran down the street, yelling, “No! No!” Then he realized he was drawing more attention to himself. A neighbor, working in her garden, walked over.

“I didn’t know you had a little girl,” she said.

One morning, Albert and Reed were engaged in what had become a routine battle: what shirt Reed would wear to school. He wanted to wear a girl shirt. Albert said no.

Reed fought has hard as he could. He kicked and bit and scratched his father.

“When I finally got the shirt over his head, I forced it over his head, the fight just left him,” Albert remembers, blinking back tears. “He seemed defeated. His body went limp, and he looked up at me.”

“I hate you,” Reed said.

“What I was doing, it was a form of abuse,” Albert says. “I felt helpless. I was really lost.”

 

That fall, Albert told Reed that, for Halloween, he could dress as whatever he wanted.

Reed wanted to be Mulan, the Chinese princess who disguises herself as a male soldier to save her father’s life. Reed picked out a costume complete with gown and black wig. Leigh powdered his face and drew on red lips. 

“It was really awesome,” Lynne now says through a grin. “I got to be who I wanted for once. I didn’t have to be Mr. Incredible.”

That night, Reed’s parents watched him race down the sidewalks, visible in the dark only by the blinking pink LED lights of his plastic princess sandals.

“He was so happy, it was like exploding rainbows of happiness,” Albert says. 

When Reed turned 6, the family moved to a new town so Reed could start first grade as a girl, at a school where no one knew she had been a boy. 

Their daughter suggested names that made Leigh and Albert cringe: Star. Sparkles. Rainbow Girl. They were relieved when she settled on Lynne.

Lynne says she felt better when people began calling her by her new name. The old one “makes me think of something weird,”€ she says. 

That summer, Lynne’s parents petitioned the court to legally change her name. 

“I knew it was the right thing to do, but I had these expectations,” Albert says. “I felt like I had lost a son.”

Leigh nudged Albert out of mourning. Albert had never taken Lynne out in public as a girl, so Leigh suggested a father-daughter day at the beach. His fear was swept away by his little girl’s delight. She splashed in the waves and ran in the sand.

“It was the first time she was happy with me,” Albert says.

Albert finally accepted that his son should have been born a girl. But they
hadn’t yet considered the logistics of their daughter’s transition.

Once Albert and Leigh had begun the steps to support their daughter, they realized there was so much they didn’t know about the law, about medicine, even proper terminology. 

So, in May 2013, Leigh and Albert attended the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference. That’s where they met Jenn Burleton.

 

In 1994, Burleton relocated to Portland with her partner, and in 2010 used $6,000 to launch TransActive from the basement office in a strip mall on 122nd Avenue in Southeast Portland. 

Today, she’s one of 12 volunteers (they have one paid staffer) who work with families across the country, including 350 in the Portland area, on a budget of less than $100,000 a year.

Children and parents nationwide reach out to TransActive confused, angry or excited. The staff help children come out to their parents, help parents understand their children, and intervene with schools, employers, police and the courts.

Burleton was in Philadelphia last year speaking about insurance coverage and transgender health when Albert and Leigh sat in on her session.

Leigh and Albert realized during the Philadelphia conference they had some choices to make and they had to make them soon. Lynne would need pubertal suppressants within a couple of years.

Without them, Lynne’s voice would dip lower once puberty began. Her facial hair would grow and an Adam’s apple form. Her shoulders would broaden, and her hands and feet grow larger.

The effects of the suppressants are reversible—all Lynne would have to do is stop taking them.

Around age 16, Lynne might move forward with hormone therapy—an irreversible treatment that would protect her bones and allow her to go through female puberty.

Pubertal suppressants would cost about $1,000 a month. Hormone therapy would be cheaper, anywhere from $50 to $300 a month. And genital reconstruction surgery—if Lynne chose to have it—could cost $15,000 to $25,000.

They couldn’t afford to pay for treatment on their own. That’s why Oregon started to look so attractive to Albert and Leigh.

Advocates here have won a patchwork of policy battles since 2007, when the Legislature passed an anti-discrimination law that included protections for transgender people.

In 2012, the Oregon Insurance Division banned insurers from discriminating against transgender patients. A few months later, the Public Employees’ Benefit Board agreed to provide an inclusive policy.

The Oregon Health Plan will begin in October to pay for costly puberty-suppressing drugs, but still doesn’t cover other transgender-related medical procedures. That’s expected to change as early as next week, when the Health Evidence Review Commission meets to consider updates to its coverage. The state estimates the annual cost to cover these therapies at less than $300,000 out of a total two-year budget of $9.7 billion.

Those legal and insurance protections led Albert and Leigh to decide that Oregon would be their new home.

At the time, Albert was working for a large company with offices around the globe, including one in Portland. He hadn’t told anyone at work about his daughter, so he was nervous as he sat down with his boss to explain that he was seeking to relocate. 

“I’ll back you up,” his boss said to Albert’s surprise. “Put in for a medical transfer.”

They set out for Oregon in May with barely enough cash to make the trip and are now settled in to a North Portland rental home in high spirits.

“We’re in a good place,” Albert says.

Albert and Leigh are looking into summer camp and school sports, things they’ve avoided until now. They had wanted to shield Lynne from difficult conversations or unwinnable fights.

Lynne will begin fifth grade in the fall, and even with Oregon’s laws that protect transgender youth from discrimination and polices that ban bullying, her parents worry whether teachers will be accepting and aware.

Leigh and Albert know they can’t protect their daughter forever. Even if no one else can tell her apart from other girls her age, Lynne feels different. And some day, as in every child’s life, she’ll get hurt.

Portland may seem like a liberal mecca, but psychologist Laura Edwards-Leeper says the majority of area adolescents she sees have experienced depression, anxiety, bullying and harassment. Transgender kids still get bullied in Portland-area schools, studies show.

Lynne doesn’t talk much about feelings, even to her parents. Instead she does it with her body language. She looks down, changes the subject, shrugs. She likes to make new friends, but as she grows closer to other kids, she pulls away, afraid they will find out and reject her.

“There’s still a yearning to be considered who she is,” Leigh says. “She doesn’t have sleepovers. She doesn’t walk into a bathroom without being concerned. We haven’t entered her in sports. So her desire is probably to be able to exist without that fear of someone rejecting her when they learn the truth.”

Albert thinks about those times he forced her to act like a boy, when she fought him with fists, feet, nails and teeth.

“She’s a fighter, and not all kids are like that,” he says. “She yelled and yelled and didn’t lose hope. She didn’€™t buckle under the pressure.”

 

Medicine Transformed

Dr. Karin Selva has treated a lot of kids with diabetes as
an endocrinologist at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland. But in
2011, she met one young man whose health was failing in spite of
treatment. 

“When he came in, everyone was worried about him,”€ Selva says.  

His hair hung over his face. He wouldn’t look up. Then he disclosed that he felt like he was born in the wrong body.  

“We had started hearing rumblings about transgender youth,” Selva says. She connected the youth with a mental health professional and eventually placed the teen on hormone therapy.

“€œEvery time we saw her, she was brighter, more interactive, laughing,”€ she says. “€œShe got her GED and was making friends.”

Word quickly got out that Selva treated transgender kids. 

Medical intervention for transgender youth is so new that until 2007 there wasn’t a single children’s hospital in the country that formally addressed the need.  

Since then, medical advances have been swift. 

The nation’s professional association of endocrinologists established best practices in 2009 that included prescribing puberty-suppressing drugs to preteens followed by hormone therapy beginning at about age 16. 

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry echoed these recommendations in 2012.

And while experts disagree exactly when teens should begin hormone therapy, which can cause irreversible changes, they do agree that prescribing suppressants when puberty hits is a safe, reversible therapy to buy kids time. 

Last year, at the request of a panel of endocrinologists, U.S. News and World Report,
for the first time in its hospital rankings, assigned additional points
to hospitals that have programs designed to meet the needs of
transgender youth. 

Boston
endocrinologist Norman Spack opened the nation’s first clinic to treat
transgender children at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2007. 

“By putting puberty
on hold, this buys them four to five years so they can work it out, live
without feeling their bodies are running away with them,” Spack said
during a 2013 TED Talk on the topic. “With hormones they looked
beautiful. Normal. You would never pick them out of a crowd.” 

 

Last fall, Selva approached Sevket Yigit, medical director
of pediatric endocrinology at Randall Children’s Hospital. She wanted
to start a clinic especially for transgender kids.  

Yigit was aware of
studies that showed soaring rates of depression, drug abuse and suicide
among transgender youth. The San Francisco Unified School District, for
example, surveyed middle-school children in 2011 and discovered that 50
percent of transgender kids had attempted suicide, compared to 6 percent
of straight youth. 

A more hopeful study
suggests that number can change: 92 percent of gay and transgender teens
who had very accepting families said they believed they could mature
into happy adults.  

Yigit helped Selva secure $25,000 in seed money from the Randall Children’s Hospital Foundation.  

“If we treat them
early, then when they’re adults, no one needs to know,” Selva says. “I
don’t want them to be known as the man in the dress, where they have to
shave and wear a wig. I want them to live normal, happy, fulfilled
lives.” KATE WILLSON.