Who can say where we will find ourselves when we muddle through this muck and on into the muck that lies beyond? Whatever may come to pass, we are not likely to see a return to things as they were. At the moment I am thinking not about what exactly what may await but of how we will greet those first days when the doors of coffee shops and restaurants and bookstores and bars and museums and cinemas begin to swing open, when we can walk and run through parks and across bridges and along the waterfront without keeping constant watch to maintain a safe distance from others, when I can dine again at India Oven, chicken korma, lamb biriyani, a veggie somosa, an IPA, ah…
Will we take these things for granted? Or will we greet them with wonder? A friend of Sandersista persuasion has taken to saying that we are all socialists now. I am skeptical about that. Maybe, though, we will be surrealist, attuned to a touch of the marvelous in what was once the mere everydayness of it all.
This beast caught my eye on a recent run along a route I have taken countless times over the past decade. I have a recollection of having seen it before, but most days I pass it by without notice, bleak commentary on my powers of observation.
As soon as the idea of the Deluge had subsided,
A hare stopped in the clover and swaying flowerbells, and said a prayer to the rainbow, through the spider's web.
Oh! the precious stones that began to hide,—and the flowers that already looked around.
—Arthur Rimbaud, "After the Deluge," Illuminations, tr. by Louise Varèse
What will I find when I can again take the bus downtown with risk of little worse than having to endure the inanities spouted by some guy on his phone in agitated conversation with his parole officer?
What will I find as I step from the bus at the stop on SW 5th and Washington? What will I see and sense when I look around? The air is bright, the sky nine degrees of blue, or maybe overcast and poised to deliver that little Portland drizzle we know so well. It matters not.
Imagination takes me up SW 5th past Spella Caffe, Muji in the old Meier & Frank Building, and the silver statue guy outside Pioneer Place. A turn west on Morrison at the courthouse to Pioneer Courthouse Square, maybe a sidewalk preacher on the corner just down from the westbound MAX stop, or a street musician with an amp cranked to distortion level, and on diagonally across the square, past the woman protesting the detainment of children on the southern border, up the steps to the food carts in the southwest corner by the MAX stop.
What more glories await? I bid good day to the Street Roots vendor at his spot outside Banana Republic corner of Broadway and Yamhill, a greeting he returns cheerfully, mutual recognition of our mutual place in the community. Kids frolic in the fountain at Director Park. A thousand small pleasures beckon from the doors of the Central Library even if I do no more than browse the mystery section to renew acquaintance with the inhabitants of Three Pines, Louise Penny's little village south of Montreal that appears on no map, or journey to Dana Stabenow's generic national park in Alaska, where Kate Shugak, a short but formidable Aleut woman, and her roommate Mutt, half-husky, half-wolf, hold all manner of miscreants to account.
Next up, expose myself to art. Backpack loaded with crime novels that will serve as pleasant diversion from more serious fare, I flash my membership card for a quick run through Portland Art Museum to renew old acquaintances there, Courbet's Violoncellist, Monet's River at Lavacourt, Moses Soyer's Girl with a Cigarette.
Thence south on 10th Avenue to Portland State University and a block down to Park Ave Cafe where the baristas crank up the espresso machine when they see me step through the door, the tall guy who reminds me of my nephew and addresses me as sir when he delivers the brew, the young blonde woman with enigmatic smile, and the other young woman with a discreet tattoo, a sort of line drawing, on the inside of her right arm down near the wrist, and her own winsome smile.
When fortune smiles I snag the table by the window there by the door and take in the view of the Park Blocks at the entrance to PSU, the streetcar stop, the comings and going of students and teachers, downtown office workers, the homeless, the derelict, the hip and the haughty, solitary and in couples, hands-holding young romantics, a tour guide at the head of a flock of Segway riders, bicyclists, skateboarders, e-scooterists.
The big TV on the back wall between the two all-comers restrooms is tuned in to soccer from somewhere in the world. I look around hoping to see some of the old regulars who I take it are residents of a nearby senior living facility, a pair of friends, a stocky, habitually disgruntled little guy with an unkempt beard, customarily clad in shorts and sandals, a taller woman with a rumpled red hat in shape suggestive of a fez but a soft fabric perched on her head. They talk and sometimes bicker. I have overheard him speak of alcoholism and seen her pack up and walk away while he was availing himself of the restroom facilities, leaving him upon his return puzzled, scratching his head, shuffling out the door with a goodbye directed at a diminutive woman sitting alone who wears her age with uncommon elegance and an air of sophistication, exquisitely attired, always a brightly colored beret tilted at a fashionable angle.
I open my journal and take up the pen as I reflect on the day's little adventures, my wandering by book and by foot, put down a line, an image, a phrase that might later find its way into a poem, rant sparked by latest outrage on the political front, find reason to smile or better yet smile for no reason, setting out lightly in a good spirit through the muck and the marvelous.
two little white Buddhas spied on a recent stroll through the neighborhood
Thank you for indulging me this sojourn through imagination and recollection, with its shades of whimsy, hope, wishful thinking, and always a touch of melancholy, life as I find it.
Keep the faith.