Report on Travels to Astoria and Portland

I drove to Astoria after I took my daughter to the dentist for her first cavity filling. I don’t remember getting my milk teeth worked on. The dentist was in a building I had been in many years before when I worked at The Washington State Water/Wastewater Association. I answer the phone, “Water/Wastewater, can I help you?”

The place was in the process of being taken over by a woman who had worked in the office as an assistant. She was from Texas. For lunch once she took me to this place for liver and onions on Pacific Highway. It was full of old timers from the area. And now the place is dentist with the receptionist behind bullet proof glass. When they finally took my daughter back into the recently built room to fill her cavity, one of the hygenists began to clean her teeth. They had just been clean. After she had all of her equipment set up and was rooting around in our daughter’s mouth, she asked us, “Why she here?”

“For a filling.” This caused much confusion. She left and returned and without saying anything to us picked up her materials and left. The dentist came and gave our daughter sun glasses and then worked on her tooth. Our daughter was very involved in the procedure of being a patient. She kept her mouth very open. She intently listened to the dentist. And after it was done, she admired her repaired cavity.

And then we left for the toy store, where she assesses the value of the toys based on how quickly she would be bored of them. She selected a toy called a Doodle Bear she had desired for a long time, perhaps too long. It was a bear that you could “doodle” on and then wash and draw on again. When we came home, she drew glasses and flowers on the bear and then she was bored of it before it was washed.

The drive to Longview Washington — I drive past a smokestack on Pacific Highway when I drive to work that says, “Think Longview,” this is in Seattle — has become so familiar to me now that I don’t really think about the distance. It takes about two hours to reach Longview from my neighborhood. There is something comforting in the size of the state, and the emptiness of the road south of Olympia. I imagine a day when there are Wal*Marts and Targets all of the way form Olympia to Portland, but still, there are vast fields, stands of trees and little towns like Vader. There appears to be no evidence of Vader of attempts to trade in one Star Wars. The sole appeal made for a stop in Vader while people drive on I-5 at eight miles an hour is a massive plywood ice cream cone.

I arrived in Astoria and wandered around and utilized the new public restrooms to change. I learned when I stopped by the bookstore the that the restroom had been celebrated by the town with a ribbon cutting and dedication. The building which has a kind of fake-marble look rests on precarious two-by-four pillars. But it was clean and orderly and smelled pleasant and for some reason made the entire city of Astoria seem welcoming.

Like dry rot, the town of Astoria shows imminent signs of explosive growth. The clean and orderly public restroom is the least of these things. Other evidence is in the pseudo-Victorian houses built over the industrial waste of the old plywood plant in addition to the continued growth of junk shops. Talking to my friend Karin, who has lived in Astoria for thirty-odd years, it seems that most of the locals shop at the CostCo hidden in a valley nearby. The city, too, is overrun with the occasional cruise ship. The locals run down to the shore to meet the arrival of outlanders. The school brass band strikes up a Sousa march and sidewalk vendors ply the incoming tourists with authentic Astorian Wares.

I read at the bookstore and the next day woke to rain that was falling sideways from the direction of the ocean up river. So I wrote and then went to KMUN to talk on the radio with Heidie J about my book. Heidie handles the Clear Cut Press operations in Astoria — where subscriptions are filled, where the center of operations remains despite the dispersion of the principle perpetrators of the small press to Seattle and Portland.

I read that evening in downtown Portland, a region seemingly more desolate and populated than similar portions of Seattle. There was a lot more street life juxtaposed to well dressed twenty/thirty something drinking and smoking under awnings at sidewalk cafes.

I read with Roderick McLean and Kevin Sampsell at the XV. I met some interesting folks from Tin House and Austin and Laura who run PinBall Publishing. They also run their own commercial press in order to make a living. Mike Daly provided sound.

We inadvertently managed to corner a table of people who were there for drinking and not there for hearing fiction. Rather than, well, move (which is what I would have done.) they kept their ground and defended it with attempts at mockery. I didn’t hear this while it was in progress. It was noted that this could be a feature of readings, a dialogue (perhaps constructed) between the reader and a heckler. I’m not sure if this would work, since a major feature of a reading is the protective presence of a manuscript or book. It would seemed far too contrived for a heckler to come armed with a manuscript.

When it seems that the reader is speaking about their actual life, it becomes a confessional somethingorother rather than just a reading. Sometimes this can be the best part of a reading. Often in poetry readings the intros are more vivid, compelling and natural than the actual poems.

We read, we were heckled, and then we drank. And finally late at night I drove back through Longview, Vader, Olympia and Tacoma.

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