Oregon Tavern Age: Conversations

(In honor of Oregon Governor Kate Brown proclaiming April as Oregon Tavern Age Month, the blog will feature a full week of OTA stories. A new book of these tales is slated for a fall publication in some atypical publishing format.)

Four OTA men in the South Jetty sat two tables away: Bud, IPA, Busch, screwdriver. They projected a hazy aura of criminal mischief: the usual garden variety miscreant behavior that makes for wonderful storytelling later.

Rain ripped outside—five straight straight-jacket days. An OTA woman working a Video Lottery machine announced she’d just booked passage on Noah’s Ark. It was going to be a real booze cruise.

I was writing a letter to a woman who planned on becoming the first woman to wear a tennis skirt in OTA country and not after playing tennis. I was telling her how 20 minutes earlier, I had seen a sneaker wave drop two women in the surf, but they managed to stand up and live.

A first round NBA game played on television. Nobody cared.

The men were engaged in a spirited conversation about literature—Tom Clancy or John Grisham. I’d never read a book by either author, but these readers knew them well.

I wondered if anyone else in OTA country was discussing literature on a Sunday afternoon while rain sent rivers up to flood stage. Were there two drywallers talking about Moby Dick or The Deerslayer? Was there a roofer in love with Emily Dickinson or Elizabeth Bishop? I desperately wanted to believe there was. And idea hit me: what about starting a book club that meets in OTA country and only reads novels by American authors who drank themselves to death. I could lead it and get my teaching fix. We could start with Hemingway, Fitzgerald or about a hundred others.

The book critics got up and left. In the wind I heard talk of roofing, caulking, logging and loggers whose dogs were killed in the woods by trucks, machinery and downed trees.

Another man sat at the bar and talked to himself. It was more of a debate.

A couple of OTA men behind me struck up a conversation about sea lions. They wanted them all killed. They’re eating all the fake hatchery salmon. They’re out of control.

I’d heard the sea lion story a hundred times in taverns and bars along the Oregon Coast and have never offered a rebuttal, although I dearly wanted to and let loose with the word pinniped.

Long ago, I learned that rebutting the various natural resource extraction myths that predominate in OTA country is a useless endeavor. It’s not the right venue. This is, however, in my mind, the right venue for something else, although exactly what else remains to be seen. It’s an ongoing conversation.

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