Oregon Tavern Age: Narcan Angel

One of my favorite bartenders in my neighborhood OTA dive stood behind the bar and filled me in on the latest stories about the homeless men and women who patronize the joint, wander dazed and confused outside, congregate and/or pass out at the bus stop across the street, or use the picnic tables as a kind of pit stop before going on to do whatever it is they do all day. (This is the least reported story of the homeless crisis in America: what do homeless people, addled or non addled, do all day?)

We were alone. Not even a single person playing the slot machines.

This bartender and I usually talk about the soups we make. But today we conversed about the homeless in the neighborhood and the various deaths from overdoses that had occurred in recent months. These were men she had known in her capacity as a bartender, including one man named Marty.

Over a year ago, I’d written a poem about Marty, a regular in a coffee shop across the street from my dad’s assisted living center. I’d observed Marty dozens of times and he always kept to himself, ordered a coffee, then left. Sometimes other regulars bought him a coffee or a pastry. He was probably 60 years old.

The bartender told me that Marty had been found dead after running naked through the halls of a nearby apartment building. He had apparently died of a heart attack brought on by methamphetamine and fentanyl. He had also suffered extreme head trauma from smashing his head into the walls of the apartment building.

I had written a poem about him in his better days. Two stanzas read:

Marty, the shop’s homeless mascot

just rolled his folded blankets, sleeping bag and outerwear out the door.

In all my years of observing

Martys around Oregon,

I have never seen one with folded anything.

New homeless and women had recently appeared in the neighborhood. They were a much harder looking lot than previous migrations and exhibiting increasingly more bizarre behavior.

There has been zero outreach from the city and county to this encampment-free population from as far as I could tell, and I do have members of the Old Crow Book Club who keep me informed on such matters.

The bartender told me that management had recently started stocking Narcan in case customers suffering from a fentanyl overdose needed resuscitation.

She’d already used two sprayers the past week and she only worked two days a week from 9-5. On her own volition, she had driven to Central City Concern and picked up more Narcan—a lot more.

Just the other day, she and another customer pumped four hits of Narcan into a homeless man outside the bar. They saved his life, the paramedics showed up to treat him, an ambulance took him to a hospital and…

…the next day he was outside the bar and overdosed again and she administered another dose of Narcan to revive him.

This was all insane.

Insane that a bartender was a front line health care worker.

Insane that the homeless man suffering from extreme addiction was released from the hospital (probably given a ride back to the neighborhood).

Insane that there is no sobering center in the county where the man would have been confined for at least a week and assessed.

Insane that the man used fentanyl again after almost dying the previous day.

Insane that this was going down in one of the tonier neighborhoods in Portland.

Insane that I plan on now carrying Narcan on my 5:30 morning walks with Elmer the husky.

Insane that I will undoubtedly have to use it soon.

Insane how broken American culture has become that all the above is perfectly normal.

I asked the bartender if she thought she would live long enough to see the homeless crisis somehow go away, implying a solution. I didn’t say improve.

“No,” she said.

I agreed and that hurt.

We stopped talking about the homeless crisis and I asked about her gazpacho recipe. I plan on making my first attempt at one this summer.

“What? You slice in a honeydew melon?” I said.

“Yeah, my secret sauce.”