November 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
I saw an old friend from high school the other night. He was in town for a few days and called me up noncommittally and I insisted we do anything he liked that wasn’t at my house. He sounded a little disappointed.
“My friend’s mom is in town. Look, just trust me.”
Fortunately, he had been ruminating on making a few pies that evening, and we settled on that. He came in to pick me up, I popped downstairs, and ran SMACK into my friend’s well-intentioned mom. Oh shit. She spent the following 20 minutes recounting how she had rigged the cat food at her house to come out of the automatic dispenser when you shake it, but had realized upon making it to Portland several days ago that the cat doesn’t know how to shake the dispenser. This was certainly the worst punchline I’d ever heard to a 20 minute narrative about someone’s cat. I grabbed my friend and pulled him upstairs.
“You’re right.” He said, “Let’s just run for it.”
We plummeted through the living room and into the car.
The house he was staying at was epically crumpled. I tried to distinguish the outer paint color – were those tatters the scraps of paint that had peeled off? Was that wood underneath or paint so old it had turned brown? It turned out to be a strangely shaped thing from the late 1800’s. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a house that old in Portland. Everything here is 20’s/30’s boom, or 70’s boom. There’s something tangibly refreshing about visiting an utter shithole. You can enjoy the relaxation of don’t-give-a-fuck scrawled walls and broken cabinets and piles of dirty confusion, and then go home and say “My house is very nice, thank you,” quietly to yourself. My mother says the delightful thing about vacations is it’s nice to go away, and then nice to come home. It’s like that.
The occupants were wonderful. It was a jumble of people and I had trouble telling who slept there and who was about to bicycle away in the night. I’d encountered one fellow a few years earlier, when my friend had first dropped through Portland. I’d gotten a phone call while buried deep in some manic month of schoolwork. I can’t remember what part of the year it was, only that sparing three hours to see an old friend seemed like the sky falling. The day’s activities involved him and his friends walking through the nearby Rhododendron Gardens very, very slowly. These days, I am content to spend my days strolling about. But there was work to be done, and I was crazed. And they were so high. So very high. They shuffled along, quietly looking at every bush. They sat and stared and stared and stared at the ducks. And of course, they smoked. It finally dawned on me that my options were to medically slow myself to their pace, or homicide with a side dish of duckicide. I seized the pipe.
When I got home, I was too stoned do my work, and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in my living room yelling “I’M SO MAD I’M HIGH” over and over again.
Making pies, however, was much better way to see an old friend.
“You like chicken potpie?” he asked one of the housemates as he drifted through.
The fellow tilted his head back lazily and grinned. “That’s my three favorite things. Chicken. Pot. And Pie.”
My friend thought about it, proposed chicken pot pie enchiladas for the true perfect combination of foods, and they passed the measure.
I tried to explain to my friend my ill-fated history with pie, but he smiled firmly and told me I was to brave the crust. It’s his mother’s recipe. Straight from the Queen of Pies, he assured me. Put anything in this crust, and people will flock to eat it. I ended up making three crusts, so the secret is branded in my memory, and now it is my secret too, and so I share it with you. The magic words were:
1 3/4 cups of flour
2/3 cup of crisco
1/3 cup of water
a pinch of salt
stir with a fork
The crusts were easy to roll and flaky when baked. I spent a half hour making little dough flowers on top of the potpie. In one evening, my friend had transformed me into someone who thought they could cook. Someone who knew they could cook. All I have to do is throw anything into the magical crust. As one girl happily announced mid-bite: “this could make dog shit taste delicious!”
After this, I sat and watched a girl stick-n-poke tattoo a fellow for a while. I’d never seen the process before. She finished one, and began mending another that wasn’t very clear. As it began, he told me he’d been drunk on his birthday, as is the birthday tradition. They’d be listening over and over to this French song, the main word of which was diggedle boeing. I was about to tell them that I had failed 7 years of French, but I was fairly sure this wasn’t a French word. They played the song, and some lovely french voice sang all sort of legitimate-sounding foreign words – but ended the chorus each time with an emphasized diggedle boeing. “We should get this tattooed!” had been his drunken epiphany, and the pair of them had stick-n-poked diggedle boeing across each other’s thighs.
I watched as she taped together two pins, straight from the traditional tomato pincushion, and attached the pair to a colored pencil. She began dipping the apparatus in a lid full of india ink. As I watched her poking and him squealing, all I could think of, stupid dork that I am, was John Wilkes Booth, doing the same thing as a child in the 1840’s tattooing his initials on the back of his hand. He could have tattooed diggedle boeing instead, and we might have had less fuss over whose body it was.
We watched Ace Ventura – it was the second, racist one, not the first, transphobic one – and I chatted with a young man who works at Goodwill. First off I asked him if what I had heard was true. Whispered rumors say that if Goodwill employees even set foot at The Bins, they’re fired. If they ever catch you there, you’re done for! He was apparently told that if he wanted to visit the Bins, just to see what it was like, he had to call the manager ahead and set up an appointment, so that he could be walked around and carefully watched to be sure he didn’t purchase anything. They told him that all such practices were in place because the system had been abused in the past. That’s right, there were actually Bins get rich schemes concocted by Goodwill employees. After all, one can just load up a truck with valuables, drive it to the Bins, call in your partner, and have them snatch up the shipment. Welcome to the villainous world of Bins crime.
The Bins, for those not from Portland, is a warehouse packed with foul-smelling bins filled with things that didn’t sell at Goodwill, or couldn’t, or that they never bothered to sort. You pay by the pound. The sweet spot is around $25 for 25 pounds of clothes.
I asked him what was done with the clothing afterwards. I had always imagined it was incinerated in giant evil vats. I had read recycled-clothing tags recently that intimated something similar, if less sinister and with a lower potential for creating Batman villains. But I had also heard that all the excess clothing is shipped to Africa, where it provides cheap clothing and leads to all the pictures you see of starving African children in t-shirts. I’d also heard it tanked the local clothing industry, making it harder for Africans to make a living making textiles. All he knew on the subject, he said, was one terrible bulletpoint that had stuck with him from training.
You know those giant swathes of shoes at the Bins? You remember the hours of your life you lament wasting, searching for the match for that perfect shoe? Shoe bins are well-known to be the most tormenting. If you find the right shoe, there’s only one, and overturning every shoe in a six-bin-range doesn’t kick the nagging worry that you just missed it.
The good news is, you didn’t miss it. It wasn’t there.
The totally-fucked-up news is, those single shoes actually go somewhere after the Bins. They’re rounded up and sent to charities that work to fill the demand for single shoes. Because in countries with serious mine-injury problems, people need single shoes.
Next time I got to the Bins and find that perfect single shoe, I’m going to put it down and say, “Maybe I can walk away from this.” Literally walk away from it, because I won’t spend my life wearing single shoes, and I can be grateful for this. This shoe’s imaginary partner doesn’t matter enough to spend half an hour in a livid hunt. Maybe this dollar is better invested in a mine-extracting charity for places where having a single shoe is commonplace.
Although, I know as I put it gently back that this shoe won’t find a new home among the crippled and impoverished peoples of the world. No way are they sending them a 6″ red stripper heel.