Away For The Holidays
It was a wholesomeness overdose that did it; too much good cheer, random affable family members, pie, wine, and all the rest. It's a lot to take.
After two years in Portland, Ore., I'd taken to spending my Thanksgivings at a good friend's (call her Bea) parents' house on Rocky Butte, a wealthy, fairly exclusive green mound rising above the city's eastern outskirts. It was a declaration of neutrality. Visiting either one of my divorced parents would only lead to the other being pissy, so I became a ceremonial member of my friend's family. And I didn't have to skip work or broke myself on a holiday plane ticket.
But, again, Bea's family's a wholesome bunch--it's probably a function of having company over, but still, it was almost imposing. Not that I grew up in smoldering dysfunction, but Bea's family was generally concerned about my well-being, nuclear, ambiguously religious, wealthy, the sort of folks who have just-for-show areas of their house and a cat for the lap of every visitor. It was warm and safe in every literal and emotional sense. They even made me a separate vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. A model holiday feast, it began about noon, which for us then--another good friend, Leaf, joined us that year--was equivalent to a workaday's 6 o'clock in the morning. And, as was our style at the time, we were hungover.
But, beer was waiting on the Butte for us. And being a holiday and all, there wasn't any sense in waiting for our then-customary late afternoon/early evening start. The day dragged along in a mental and literal fog--the Butte tends to graze Portland's low fall rain clouds. We played chess with relatives x-degree-removed. We dozed in the not-at-all sunny sun room. We ate. We played with the cats. We snuck soggy cigarettes on various patios. We watched Bea's brother play video games. We dozed some more. Awkwardly, I tried to explain to various ceremonial family members what, exactly, it was that I did. Explaining being a bellboy is easy enough, but freelance writing is another thing entirely ("but who, exactly, do you work for?"), particularly when you're not very good at it ("a web site that doesn't pay and a failing magazine") and should maybe be doing something easier to explain at 25.
By 8--dishes done, drunk x-degree-removed relatives sketchily making their way down the hill in a cold rain--Bea, Leaf, and I, as grateful as we were for the day, were over it. We decided a bath was needed, a vice bath to wash away all the wholesomeness; some cigarettes to flush the potpourri and baking pies from our sinuses, some rail scotch to flush the pinot noir from our livers (not likely, but still).
The place to do it in Portland, save for a strip club (which we may have adopted on a later Christmas or Thanksgiving), is the Sandy Hut, aka the Handy Slut--most hipsterati/skaterati had something unfortunate go down after a last call at the Hut, be it a regrettable fight or regrettable fuck. The place, a cinder-block bunker wedged at a "V" intersection, advertises steaks and seafood, but is known better for two-buck Pabst tallboys, shuffleboard, and liberal policies on behavior/consumption. Consider it Portland's answer to the Mount Royal Tavern.
We had a special guest that night. I don't remember where the invitation came from, but one drink after we arrived, we were cutting up blue tabs of something advertised as pure MDMA underneath the table. I usually know better; being the anxious sort (clinically), anything beyond good ol' booze doesn't much agree with my brain chemicals. In most of these situations, I'd rather play baby sitter, but Thanksgiving just seemed so damned perfect to get really spaced.
But, of course, I didn't get really spaced; I got freaked out. It hit as I was leaning over a shuffleboard table. Suddenly, there was a vacuum cleaner attached to the back of my brain and my gut went tingly and warm. Then, the second wave hit, and the sensations reversed themselves and intensified, echoing up and down my spine. Fine, but the rub is that pure MDMA is a fantasyland sort of deal, and this was cut with some trucker emergency type stuff, and so my heart was racing. I start breathing a little too fast and got dizzy.
The best solution, it seemed, was to as coherently as possible excuse myself from the room. I apologized and said I'd be back in a few. I walked around the block a few times in the rain, and my friend Leaf came out with a camera, insisting that we take arty-type photographs of ourselves standing in the turn lane of Sandy Boulevard. It distracted me enough to calm to the point where I could go back inside and drink something really, really fast, something to temper the racing everything. Didn't work.
I ended up spending most of the night in a neighboring parking lot waiting for things to mellow, hoping it wouldn't hurt too bad when my heart exploded, and, somewhere way down where my rational brain had burrowed, that I wouldn't see anyone I'd have to interact with. That would just be too much.
I tried to shock myself out of it with a couple slaps to the face and a pen tip to the thigh, but nothing would be even remotely right until sometime well after my friends left the bar--all smiles after a night of playing shuffleboard and shredding napkins on the table and we retreated to the safety of private spaces. In the meantime, I sat on asphalt, soaked, cycling between hyperventilating and passing out, and thinking of the lovely view from Rocky Butte.
The 2009 City Paper Holiday Guide
The Gifts That Count (11/18/2009)
The presents that have stayed in our writers' thoughts
The Wish List (11/18/2009)
Gifts we wish we could afford
In a Lonely Place (8/4/2010)
Montreal's Arcade Fire shows its American roots on new album
The Short List (8/4/2010)
Soft Core (7/28/2010)
A defense of a different live music experience
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