We all define ourselves by our relationships. Just before Napoleon took autocratic control of France, he addressed the people as, “soldiers.” The people understood themselves, in part, based upon their own relationship with the defending and liberating military of France. Napoleon’s authority was based upon his rank over the military, which was the people.
After his initial exile, Napoleon returned for his 100 Days, and subdued France back under his control strictly by asking them to remember their relationship with him.
Napoleon is, of course, a dramatic example for something that is intimately true. My work is long and stressful. I’ve had plenty of good relationships torn asunder by a drive to keep going. A need to finish what work I have, while at the same time starting new projects and doing new things. Between all of this, I medicate. The girls that have cared the most about me have discouraged the medication–the bars, the bottles at home, the pills at work. The girls that have cared less about me have encouraged my willing destruction.
But the choice has always been mine, and along with the need to keep working, the rigid tyranny that I insist upon having over my own person is about the only thing that I share with Napoleon.
The Juke shares this with me as well. I’ll be writing and reading through eyes blurred with alcohol, racing the sun to be finished before the night is over. At the same time, the Juke would have stirred from sleep and already started his work in the wee hours of the morning, losing himself with quill and paper while cigar smoke lazily moves around the room.
But on the weekend in question, the Juke was out of town. V-Day, his wife, was looking for something to do on a night that WaЯRen and I happened to have off. I was ready for another night on the town, and choosing a district, we decided to go for it.
Peter’s Bar and Grill
5701 NE Fremont
Portland, OR 97213
Before the sun went down, we were at Peter’s. A review mentioned that this was a neighborhood bar that was not unlike Cheers, and I think the description paints an accurate picture. It’s a wide range of people at a bar with a wide range. The initial bar you see upon entering has the aesthetic of a brewpub. The back, however, is a reflection that has the aesthetic of a sketchy pool hall. The tap list is short, but in constant rotation.
It was unusually warm for Portland though. WaЯRen and I had beer, while V-Day sampled a few other drinks. That was until V-Day and I stumbled upon the idea of a mint julep.
The mint julep, of course, was something we had just had a week or so ago
. It’s one of my favorite complicated drinks as I’m a whiskey man, and it’s about the only way to make whiskey refreshing during a hot snap like this.
The conversation was, as always, good with us. But WaЯRen was focused on one of the servers, I’ll creatively call her Server.
The Juke and V-Day were the kind of couple that complimented each other, even if on paper you may have thought otherwise. The Juke is the most chill people you’ll ever meet, and he’s cool in most senses of the word; measured, relaxed, and willing to have a good time with a shrug and a smirk. V-Day is excited for anything and cool in the sense that she will let herself fall in love with every idea and concept that comes along.
But when the Juke was out of town, it was time for V-Day to hit the bar with me and WaЯRen.
WaЯRen was in the last of death throw from a marriage that had expired long ago. At Peter’s, as is often case, alcohol helped move this along. For the first time in a long time WaЯRen was able to imagine himself as a part of himself instead of the neglected part of a unit. Server was his type and her blue eyes sparkled when she saw him. He was relearning how to accept such attention. We watched and encouraged him to flirt, to come to accept that side of himself.
Nobody teaches you how to flirt, or how to interact with the people you’re interested in being with. There isn’t a lot of coaching that can be done either, despite claims to the contrary. You have to learn to do it by testing borders, testing people, testing yourself. We all have to learn that there is no magic formula. A girl at a bar that seems to respond to a quote or a method you are using isn’t falling for it because you found the perfect line, it’s because she already decided that she wanted to go with you. It’s all choreographed for our amusement and dictated upon by how we present ourselves. A girl smoking a cigarette with a KMFDM shirt and a neck tattoo that reads, “I kill what I fuck/ I fuck what I kill,” (call me if you’re out there) is not going to react to the same things that an exchange student from a traditional family in Asia is going to respond to. And that’s good and fine.
As a self-styled academic, I recommend using a grammatically questionable 19th century flirtation card that refers to the woman as a, “creature.”
To find yourself, you need to learn how others react to you. I had to learn to disregard everything in movies, because a giant aggressive looking guy with a deep voice is never modeled as a love interest.
Which was a long way of saying that WaЯRen, Verity, and I were circling around the topic if not ever formally addressing it; getting increasingly crude and roudy as we drank. In fact, before long, the alcohol flowed through all of us. The sticky sweat from the day was laced with the broken pomises of Demon Alcohol, but with it draining from our systems we were more honest with each other and open with ourselves.
V-Day was starting her night of excess while what she loved was far away.
WaЯRen was learning to accept the death of something that he loved.
I was wondering if I was capable of love, or if I mistook it with my feelings of guilt, gratitude, and lust—now all far away and dead.
But let me not paint a dire picture: this was a night of mostly laughing and drinking long sips. Alcohol did not bring us into the misery, but freed us from it. Unified behind our shields, we spoke to the staff until our eyes pushed in different directions. But we had lost the time to think, now it’s time to drink.
NE 61st Ave, Portland, OR 97213
In Ireland, there are a few types of bars. There’s your pub, and your late bar. The pub you know and it’s not worth dwelling upon beyond the fact that it closed at a reasonable time. The late bar, on the other hand, was a different character. These are bars that stay open into the wee hours of the night, and usually look it. The cliental is more questionable, either the professional drinkers or the people too young to feel tired populate these places. Sometimes they are discos that probably look terrible when the lights come on, and sometimes they are places like Mad Hannah’s, where it looks terrible even when the lights are on.
But I delight in such establishments. Mad Hannah I’ve spoke of before, but it was fun to take V-Day into it for the first time. For being a bar that looks not unlike a fisherman’s bar, it certainly has a young and vibrant cliental. It is the rare exceptiopn of the old neighborhood bar gentrifying that makes it work.
As is typical, there was a group of beautiful young women moving around the bar. V-Day, always the good sport, got her shots in and was able to hang with WaЯRen and I putting our politics aside to objectify human beings.
This particular group of girls was notable for another reason as they were probably Middle-Eastern. This is, of course, a problematic and imperialistic designation for the cradle of civilization. Nonetheless, I would guess that they were Persian–though I could not say for sure. A couple of men clearly connected with the girls sat at a nearby table, and common decency stopped us from trying to chat the girls up.
The lead man sat casually at the table, sipping a clear beverage while smiling to his colleague and accepting the affection of one of the girls when she came up to see him. His hair slicked back, he wore a Saddam mustache and leaned back with a confident pose.
The girls played with the juke box, swaying in small shorts to the music that they selected.
The three of us, V-Day, WaЯRen, and myself were free though. There was nothing that could stop us with the amount of alchol that we had consumed, and we ordered more in order to keep our invulnerability real and constant.
And as fun as it was to leer at the girls here, we wanted to turn the volume up a little bit more. I had just the place.
Somewhere in Cully
We were already flirting with being too late to hit the 2.30 bar close. But we decided to take the long way to the next bar. We overshot, but a lot, and walked the wrong direction for a good while before trying to correct our course.
In the darkness though, with booze in our veins, we were children. It was one of many summer nights we had all held dear that we were experiencing again. Coming upon a playground, we stopped and played. I ran up to the towers of the wooden platform, and Verity immediately found fascination with the slide. WaЯRen, in my mind, had an unhealthy curiosity about the spinning rides.
In harder drug terms, in retrospect, we were peaking. Cast aside was all of our earlier dirty speak. No longer relevant was WaЯRen’s emerging as an individual not in a relationship; my struggling with the desire to connect with a pretty girl; V-Day’s missing husband. We were at play instead, into a more innocent place.
I don’t know when it happens, but there’s a point, maybe I was in fifth grade or so, when one can only enjoy the playground a little ironically, if at all. There is a transformation from the playground from a place of imagination into a place for drugs and secret sex. Alcohol helps reverse the transformation. I went down the slide because I wanted to go down the slide.
But running around like a child can only last for a while. Eventually the liquor thins and you begin to remember your job, your mortgage, your responsibility.
So it was off to find a bar.
The Shady Lady
4579 NE Cully Blvd, Portland, OR 97218
I was the only one that had been to the Shady Lady before. The experience had been interesting. When I was last there, it was the most eccentric bar that I had ever been. It was a mix of old white blue-collar people and young blacks, while a table of Latinos laughed in Spanish prominently in the background. It was exactly the kind of diverse place that Portland imagines should develop in the Cully neighborhood, where many of these communities overlap.
But the most impressive thing is the walk to the bar. You’re in urban terrain, and then there’s a weird intersection on the road. This intersection breaks into what amounts to a giant triangle. At the head sits a small food cart park that dissolves into trees and unkept brush, something that’s not too out of place in Portland. But you march through it anyway, seeing light coming from somewhere in the brush.
Shady Lady rose out of the bamboo groves, an oasis of music and yammering voices. One could easily forget the place and time. It was like knowing of a secret place on the borders of Vietnam or Korea where the GIs are catered to.
The approach is mysterious and interesting. The wood paneled building is stark in comparison, and the lack of windows add to the mystery. It’s unfortunate that nothing else continues to the build.
The Shady Lady is, as the name implies, female. It’s also shady. The immediate feeling is like going into somebody’s basement bar. The air is thick and full of people. Unlike the last time here, the crowd was dominated entirely by the youth, the older white section of the bar apparently having gone home. The bar, however, was playing only country-western music. Which was like listening to broken glass being poured into my fucking ears.
V-Day thoughtfully went up to request they play Slayer, something of a homage to the Juke in part.
WaЯRen was getting hit on at the bar.
I was next to him, getting a cider and a couple of beers. It was a dense crowd, but happy and thriving in the place despite the country music.
“Can I get your number,” The woman asked WaЯRen.
“I’m married,” WaЯRen replied, falling back on his old life.
“Can I get your number anyway?” She continued.
While she may not have been the most attractive woman in the bar that night, there’s something to be said for getting hit upon at all. I’m sure women get tired of it, but the last person I’d want to hit on me in the world could hit on me, and I’d be walking on clouds for a month. WaЯRen didn’t say he felt the same, but I think some part of him must have become more secure in his impending single lifestyle as a result.
We opted to sit on the couch and in the easy chairs provided at the center of the bar. However, the smell of the bathroom was a constant reminder that many, many, many people had been on the couch before. Our playful romp at the playground was over, and we were all very much aware of ourselves and our surroundings again. We made talk and tried to feel the rhythm of the night
, but instead we felt the rhythm of the bar
At some point, Catchvalve came into the bar. We welcomed him heartily in an attempt to salvage the mood, but he had less patience than we did and was quickly gone.
The more we drank, the more it became clear the buzz was wasted here. It was time to leave.
4523 NE 60th Ave, Portland, OR 97218
It was a fool’s errand, but the place was clearly closing up. If we were going to get more booze before the night was over we had to act fast. The strip club would have to come next time.
Except, you know, it was the middle of the night.
4507 NE 60th Ave Portland, OR 97218
The 7/11 is like any other 7/11 you’ve ever entered. I generally prefer Plaid Pantry as I’m less likely to eat an abomination like the hot dogs at Plaid. Oregon has only a few hours where you can’t drink, and it’s amazing how well these work to stifle the life of the party. 7/11 was full of the riffraff looking to store up, to maybe get through the last few hours before booze could go back on sale. My past is littered with mornings waiting in line at Psycho Safeway
with beer in hand waiting for the clock to tick to seven so I can revitalize the flagging party back home.
I don’t think that WaЯRen, V-Day, or myself were thinking we’d be up all night. But then again, I don’t think any of us would have complained about it either. To be fair, we weren’t thinking about much.
We continued to pour drinks and poison ourselves. It was quite nice. I put on CDs while we laughed and pointed accusingly at each other…probably. I’d be lying if I said I remembered it very well.
At some point, someone said the magic word. WaЯRen assured me he was good to drive, so we got into my car…
You can get Fourth Meal virtually everywhere
A nice thing about Taco Bell is that it deliberately caters to degenerates. We stuffed ourselves into my Civic and we were off to get terrible food made unethically. But that’s all the stomach of a drunk really wants…
V-Day got Doritos Locos tacos, WaЯRen and I had a variety of bean burrito options. We took the bag of food to my house, where we consumed them.
It was late by this time, and time to sleep…V-Day and WaЯRen walked back to their respective empty beds and I got into mine.
4425 NE Fremont St, Portland, OR 97213
I awoke in a fog. I sort of remembered talking about meeting at Batter the next day. I walked out of my room and saw my living room was full of empty Fourth Meal bags and half-drunk beers. I cleaned up a little bit, took a shower, and was on my way.
V-Day and WaЯRen were already there when I arrived. The Juke was supposed to have arrived, but he was stuck in Texas. It was a bit of a blow to V-Day, who had looked forward to seeing her husband.
WaЯRen was a little more subdued than he had been the night before, which is what happens when the alcohol leaves the system. But he had eyes, and so did I. I hit on our waitress halfheartedly, and WaЯRen poked fun at us like we were in school still.
It was, in part, like we hadn’t gone to sleep. I think it would be fair to say that it was a little disorientating to have rolled out of bed in empty houses to come have breakfast. Most of the time it’s something I take in stride, but I felt it was missing—perhaps like fumes from WaЯRen’s dying marriage and V-Day’s missing husband.
But something may still have come from it that day.
After eating I made my farewells and reached into my phone’s guts to get Amazon’s number
. A goon sized degenerate sounded just about right.
411 SW 3rd Ave, Portland, OR 97204
I arrived at Huber’s after work.
As one of Portland’s oldest existing places, and it’s appropriate that Huber’s is a bar. It reflects a little bit of the Belle Epoch, Prohibition, and various other booze related eras in Portland’s history. The special is a Spanish Coffee, they have an old guy devoted strictly to making them. The food is good, mostly turkey based, and cheap for as nice as the place is—but it’s by no means a steal.
For the most part, I was thinking of the Amazon. I want to underline again that she was not out of proportion or overweight. I found her quite fetching, she was just big—like me. And there was that part of me that was a little tired of being alone. V-Day was back with the Juke by this time, and WaЯRen still kept some relations with his soon-to-be ex-wife. My ex had been a mess, but so was I. But maybe, I thought, it was time to grow up. Maybe I needed a companion in the same way that my friends all did.
She came in and I was pleasantly surprised that she still looked like I had remembered her without the haze of booze.
She sat across from me and smiled awkwardly. We ordered drinks. We ordered more drinks. We chatted for a while about ourselves and what we were like while dancing around the issue of compatibility.
“I think that men shouldn’t clean or do laundry,” She had said. This would cause many to gasp, but I have dated girls from rural Europe where this is the norm. I didn’t think twice about it.
“I do like the spheres of influence,” I said, “There is something to be said for a feminine mystique, and for a man to hold a little back and always be a man. Some men will let themselves begin to think their girlfriend is their mother, and that’s not right for either of them.”
It was what she wanted to hear. We walked out to her car, hand in hand. I slipped a kiss to her. We drove to a place she knew…
6000 NE Glisan St, Portland, OR 97213
We were getting cuddly on the road. She was a few inches smaller than a goon like myself, in heels, but she projected as big–she was my female equivalent and we were both intoxicated with booze and lust. My had was on her knee, through her hair, and she’d look bashful for a moment before tasting my lips and touching my beard.
Outside the pub she playfully pushed me back and asked me if I thought that homosexuality was something people were born with or not.
I had been drinking, and while this seemed random, I will always take an excuse to talk about Freud. And that’s exactly what I did.
After my lengthy explanation about Freud’s view on sexuality and the theory of polymorphous perversion, she simply replied, “It’s a choice.”
Biddy’s is probably the most like an actual Irish pub among Portland’s reputed Irish pubs. It has a Sinn Fein flavour to it, but one from the 1970s when everyone was more or less for Sinn Fein in one way or the other. Old posters of Gerry Adams and James Connolly hang on the wood walls, and old wood makes up the interior in general.
We sat down, ordered a few beers, and a whiskey to share. We sat at the same side of the booth for gwar’s sake.
I explained the posters to her. I explained how Sinn Fein was a nationalist party.
“Oh,” She said, “I love nationalism.”
“I go in that direction too,” I said, “But in the Irish sense, which is different than the American sense of the word. I added this as an afterthought. We were getting along well enough…but this was odd.
“What’s the difference?” She asked.
“Sinn Fein is a socialist party.”
“You said they were the Catholics.”
“There’s a long tradition of Catholic socialists,” I responded, “In Ireland the patron saint would be James Connolly, but you mostly have to realize that the Catholic Church has always been suspicious of capitalism, it’s a feudal organization that was born in a world where slavery was the main means of production.”
“Socialists are the worst.” We were still acting physically as if the conversation had not happened.
“It’s the freedom to believe as you want, to do as you feel best. Is there anything more American than that?”
“Not if you’re a terrorist,” She said. I flicked her hair and I brushed her cheek.
“That’s a matter of perspective,” I said, “Anyone that said anything about Irish nationalism was once a terrorist.”
“Only Muslims are terrorists.”
“Not Catholics?” I said nicely, my finger along her leg, “They were the terrorists for more than a century in the United Kingdom–The English use of the word is almost synonymous with them.”
“But Christians are right,” She said, “We need to extend our reach to every soul. Muslims are wrong. They need to be exterminated.”
Our closeness began to part here. “Wait,” I said, “So let’s say that you have a fifth generation Muslim in Deerborn Michigan. He’s a committed Republican for, say, three generations. Loves guns. Agrees with you on every single issue that you can think of. Drapes himself in the American flag. Let’s say he’s running for president against the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Who would you vote for?”
“There’s nothing wrong with the Klan,” She retorted.
I really don’t need to add that there is something wrong with the Klan, I hope.
There is a temptation, given to us by countless sources going as far back as cavemen around a fire, to believe that one is going to find someone that will complete the circle.
V-Day has the Juke, WaЯRen had his marriage. I had my fair share of ins and outs as well.
When it comes down to it, even if something gets in my ear about how nice such seeming completion would be, that’s not how it is and never how it was. I wasn’t actually looking for someone to spend my life with…I wanted a drinking buddy.
But I have drinking buddies. I have relations with the fairer gender (just not racists).
That night V-Day slept soundly next to the Juke. WaЯRen felt his empty bed. And I was happy to know that I’d be alone in the morning, moment away from a bloody mary.
Next time on WHEN NIGHTS ARE DULLED:
Will the crew get back together?
How will Server work into WaЯRen’s gaze?
Did I have that bloody mary I thought about the night before?
How is old Juke doing?
Who were the kids I met on the roof while drinking a plastic bottle of whiskey?