If you missed last night’s PDXX Collective reading, here’s a recap of the story I read! Enjoy.
“I can’t believe I’m dating a guy who lives in Slabtown,” Sophie told him during a dinner at the breakfast nook table in his Slabtown studio. She had opened some wine. He was salting the pasta dish she had cooked for the two of them.
The name of this Portland neighborhood made her mouth shudder as she said it. The city blocks—Northwest 15th to 19th, going east to west, and Burnside to Upshur, going south to north—reeked of piss and vomit. Spilled wine. Fake cheeses.
She could only speculate about the former. Jonathan had a very sanitary apartment compared to how filthy a dwelling she would expect of a young writer like him. He fit into his tight black jeans very well and he never perspired. Ev-er. For these graces, she could neglect his apartment’s scent of wet towels and the little black hairs confettiing his bathroom sink.
When her friends asked her where Jonathan lived, she blushed before telling them.
“Slabtown?” they asked her. “SLAB-town?”
“Don’t make me think about it,” Sophie said.
In his words, his apartment above a Plaid Pantry was “Old Portland.”
“Old Portland, man,” he said to her. “It’s like: junkies shooting up in doorways and hobos dancing next to boomboxes. Anarchist rallies. Hookers next to you in all-night diners downtown.”
“Sounds about right,” she agreed.
He took this assignation as a sign of approval, and asked Sophie to stay the night.
Goodnight, my love.
“Whenever I walk down a street in that part of town, I feel like I’m about to be jumped,” she told her friends.
“Yeah, it’s a little rapey over there,” they agreed.
“Not as rapey as 82nd, though,” another friend comforted her with.
God, she was almost to the bar for which the neighborhood was named, rocking down from the southwest hills on the number 44 bus.
Kids smoking outside the bar in a wet wind scuttled aside for her like roaches. They tilted tall boys back. No matter how good her intentions, she could not enjoy the music while she waited for Jonathan. The sound was good in the same way that all living things are good. Blurry pleasure a bit harsh on the senses at times.
That was all.
Nothing can be more grating than a romance with someone you despise. She wanted him to either fall apart sobbing onto his French toast during Sunday brunch, or else be so terrified of her every word that he said nothing the entire time. And how pleasant a morning that would be.
She felt like his first car: a used vehicle purchased at market value and enjoyed for too brief a time until its maintenance costs outweighed its value.
Goodnight, my love.
In Slabtown, Sophie saw new evolutions of alcoholism. Depravity of other kinds existed as well, but primarily it was booze that bathed the young, and the old. People died from this excess, Sophie thought, and she didn’t need Jonathan to regale her in Old Portland’s magic. The city, growing old, was suffused in sugar to its core. Your fingers brush the dried sponge (a human’s face), and it crumbled. Such frailty amid such grandiose. Was this love, Sophie asked Jonathan while he waited next to the 44 bus stop with her. He jumped when she asked, but then he saw that she was looking at a strung-out couple across the street. While Jonathan ignored them and continued talking about his screenplay (what the hell was MUMBLECORE, Sophie thought), this couple was falling apart, and in love, and apart again.
The couple sang and wobbly-waltzed in the street. “Goodnight, my love,” the man crooned to the woman.
“That’s an old song,” Sophie said.
“So, the inciting incident begins when Jeremy has to come to terms with the fact that, like, he’ll never get into a writing program. He has to reevaluate his whole, like, sense of self!”
“We should dance with them,” the woman croaked to her partner and the strung-out pair looked at Jonathan and Sophie. Sophie waved.
“You two make a beautiful couple,” the in-love man told them. “Beautiful.”
“They just got married,” offered the woman.
“No. No. Nononono,” Jonathan said, laughing. “No, no.”
“Goodnight, my love,” the man sang as the two waltzed away. Sugar sprang from their pockets and dusted the streets while they twirled.
A human be kind.
Two years later.
Sophie was walking along NW 15th with a human being, her lover. They were walking from the MAX to retrieve his car from a mechanic that specialized in alternators, or crunkshifts, or something.
“I think these men have worked here for 60 years,” she told her lover, who was her boyfriend, as well.
Her lover, too, was turned on by the place’s “classic feel” (his own words) and did not answer.
The vats of fluid that mechanics dipped car parts into and the large corroded tube above it resembled the underground lair of Jabba’s Palace (where the droid, C3PO, fears his own disembodiment and its horrific reclamation). Was this the Old Portland that Jonathan had spoken of? Sophie remembered him with a pang of guilt. She also wished to murder his placement in her mind. She wished jonathan had never been born.
She asked her lover if this was it. Old Portland?
“Not sure I know what that means!” he replied.
The human being liked to give Sophie a cookie or a glass of wine and watch her eyes get big as she told these stories about the men who would not love her. The human being watched her brown eyes glisten and his eyes seemed to register the heat in her cheeks.
“Want another?” he would ask. He’d fetch her some milk, or refill the glass.
“So?” she asked. “The Southwest? San Francisco? Austin?” Sophie said the names of the cities and thought of colors. San Francisco was smokey blue. Austin was the color of a freshly squeezed lime.
“Chicago? Denver? New York?” Turquoise. Indigo. Goldenrod. Do you see this meteor shower, love, she thought.
Slabtown was a crumbling brick. Red and gasoline bled together.
“Wherever we go, I’ll take you with me,” he said.
In every day that you move through your city, you will see this clear-eyed pair and know in a millisecond what this was: This was you walking through Slabtown, raising your forehead to dirty rains and catching the water in your teeth as you laugh.
A human be kind.
A human be cruel.
A human be coils in doorways.