Cars. Dogs. Gambling. That was the talk in the Checkered Flag Tavern on SE 82nd Avenue in Portland.
It was a rainy afternoon on a Wednesday and the US House of Representatives was trying to select a Speaker to preside over future stupidity and madness.
A Foreigner song drifted through the speakers and reruns of football games played silently on screens. A female bartender wearing ripped jeans ran the show and had the hard appearance of someone who had seen it all. If she worked on 82nd Avenue then she had probably had.
I eavesdropped here and there as I began a new journal sitting in a massive circular booth with inexplicable upholstery near a big window that overlooked the various comings and goings of the avenue. These various comings and goings were concrete evidence of the ongoing unraveling of my country and there was nothing like that while sitting in a booth and drinking a beer. It was free anti-entertainment.
Every time I looked out the window, something unfolded involving a homeless person:
Someone carried bags of cans and bottles on foot.
Someone transported cans and bottles via a bicycle-powered can and bottle- conveying contraption.
Someone meandered down the sidewalk in an obvious drug induced stupor.
Someone stood in the middle of 82nd Avenue doing … ?
Some couple wore pajamas vaping something.
Battered RVs and blasted vehicles, domiciles on wheels, bounced by, choking and coughing.
And so on. All of what I observed above happened in the space of three minutes.
I had intended not to write about the homeless but there it was streaming 20 feet away from me in brown and gray, a roiling river of degraded American humanity that never flows downhill and thus never reaches an estuary nor an ocean.
So how could I not have written about it? I could have written about the weird lunch special advertised over the bar, Danish Meatballs, or the other astonishing offerings of sausage items.
Or I could have written about anything else, but when a river such as the one that flows up and down 82nd Avenue, and you are close enough to fish from its bank, you must write about it if you are an American writer with any shred of relevance. To ignore the subject would be to lie by amoral omission.
My river watching was interrupted me as a homeless-looking man passed by mu booth and went out to the smoking porch. The bartender hurried out from behind the bar to confront him. I watched the confrontation but couldn’t hear the conversation. It didn’t last long.
The homeless man left without incident. Several seconds later I saw him bobbing down the current.
I began writing about the river in my journal and then an Elvis song replaced Foreigner and I wondered if I could work the King into the narrative. But which King? The Sun Records version or early Vegas or the fat 42-year-old pill addict who died on an upholstered toilet in Graceland while eating a ham sandwich?
Reader, I think you know which one best serves the editorial interest of my writing about the homeless.