Oregon Tavern Age: Keep on Rockin’ In the Free World

I sat in air conditioned Oregon Tavern Age country. It was 111 degrees outside. Across the street from the joint stood a homeless encampment of some 30 domiciles, some of them beyond description in their peculiarity, squalor and ingenuity. Two shirtless men barbecued something outside one of the domiciles. Another man appeared crucified in a chaise lounge. It was quite likely that someone in this encampment (and every encampment in the region) would die during the record heat wave. No one might even notice until a certain smell arose.

It was my first time visiting this joint. I dug the authentic OTA decor. Picture of Papa Hemingway from the decade he blew his his head off with an elephant gun; an order of Elks banner; vintage PNW beer neons and merchandising displays; an electronic bingo board; a taxidermied head of a deer; black and white photographs of a certain buxom Miss Oregon.

I could have sat at the window to drink my craft malt liquor ale, but I knew if I did, I’d peek through the blinds and spy on the movements of the homeless encampment. So I sat in a booth with ripped velvet upholstery. I simply had to take a break from observing and thinking about that issue. (But, of course, here I am writing about it again.)

Various monitors played various programs. One curiosity about the joint’s entertainment intrigued me. Playing on a roll-up screen on a wall to my right, projected there via a digital projector, was a soundless Pink Panther cartoon. Clearly it wasn’t being broadcast via satellite or cable. Clearly, someone in management had rigged up the projector to play Pink Panther cartoons on some kind of loop. Clearly someone loved Pink Panther cartoons. In all my years in OTA country, I had never seen such a thing. It sort of delighted me because I was being casually entertained by someone’s obsessions. I like to think I’ve done that with my writing and driftwood fort building every now and then.

Music played on the PA. It was a classic soul song that I’d never heard before and I’ve heard a lot of classic soul in my life. The singer, who sounded a lot like Lou Rawls, was singing about the ghetto, getting the government and the people, everyone, to clean up the ghetto, make the streets safe to walk, make the city a great place to live.

I considered the song. Change a few of the lyrics and it could serve as an anthem about the encampment across the street. I wonder if contemporary songwriters are writing songs about the homeless issue. Neil Young did once, with “Rockin in the Free World.” Maybe there wasn’t any need to write another after that anthem because Neil’s song was so incredible and timeless you don’t need another one.

We got a thousand points of light
For the homeless man
We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand

The soul song ended. I thought about Googling it. I didn’t.

Blondie’s “Rapture” came on. I hadn’t heard in years and had forgotten the lyrics. I drank my beer and listened.

Rapture, be pure
Take a tour through the sewer
Don’t strain your brain, paint a train
You’ll be singin’ in the rain
Said don’t stop to punk rock

I’ve always loved Blondie but was indifferent to this particular song. Not anymore. It reads like 2021.

I took a few notes. Another story was forming in my mind, and naturally it centered around some aspect of the homeless issue that has seized my creative mind these past six months. I was getting set to compose a few lines when the spell was broken and my mind turned to something else.

However, to quote the wannabe American dictator General Douglas MacArthur, “I shall return.”