I’m worried about the Portland Gay Mafia, as I sit on the brick retainer wall in front of Trader Joe’s on Northwest Glisan in the heart of the new old gentry, strolling to and fro, glancing at the two of us sideways, like, why are we not: shopping, texting, walking a dog, or wearing gay pastel organic cotton fibers.
“Listen to me, Gary, I really shouldn’t have to be the one to tell you about this stuff,” he says, practically ready to go off on me.
As he pauses to reach in his back pack and pull out his cheap white port, tilt it into his little portable wine glass he hides in his acrylic watch cap when he drinks in public, I spy a familiar book cover.
“Is that A Coney Island of the Mind?” changing the topic for the time being as he was getting a little unhinged.
“Yes,” pulling it out, as he tosses down the wine partiff in one swig.
I was hoping he would offer it to me to hold in my hands and read it. Aside from that god forsaken Rod McKuen shit and the wonderful Wordsworth we were obligated to read in High School, plus some e e cummings, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s, “A Coney Island…” was the first real poetry book I ever dove into. In fact, it was gifted to me by my High School sweetheart for my 17th birthday.
I love that book. City Lights. The Beats. “On the Road.”
“Outside it’s summertime, milk and honey days, oh San Francisco girls with their San Francisco ways…’
It all seemed so far away back in Pittsburgh, Pa in the late 60s. But I made it there…on my thumb, mothertruckers, in September of ‘72. This is chronicled in “Have a Nice Day, Man; tales from the dark side of the 70s.”
So, I gave into the matter at hand, tossing the Beats out the window in my mind, and the whole reason I probably became a goddamned writer. Instead of a plumber. Or an astronaut.
“So, who’s in this Portland Gay Mafia, anyway?”
He started to list the names, many of which I recognized from the cultural or business community in Portland the last few decades.
“Do they have an enforcer,” I pressed on. He couldn’t tell if I was serious or being sarcastic. Which is fine with me because half the time I could say the same thing about him. Let me add here, that this particular individual is one of my oldest Portland acquaintances who I met when I first blew into town like a summer breeze from the tiny town of Wheeler, Oregon, stopover from Boulder, Co, back in August of nineteen hundred and seventy-seven. I think there is one other person in Portland that I’ve known as long as him, who, like myself, is neither gay nor in the Gay Mafia.
“I’m going to write a poem about the gay mafia and get booed off the stage at the next open mic,” I mounted another charge out into No Man’s Land, up and over the trenches these gentrified petrified masses yearning to be asleep, live and die inside of every damn day.
“You do that,” he said. “But what do you have to say?”
“What do you mean, about what?!,” taking another good pull from his little glass crouching inside his stocking cap. “I’ve been sitting here talking to you about Portland culture, trying to fill you in on some things, and you say, ‘about what?’ Are you brain dead? What do you have to say about anything I’ve been talking about!?”
“Well,” at this point I stood up. He was heading down hill at million wino miles an hour straight for me and I just felt like getting up and getting out of the way. “I really have to get into the store. And I have a another stop,” checking my watch. It was 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday night in the very heart of the new/old NW Portland gentry, on the old brick wall in front of the grocery that used to be Thriftway.
Hell, I got 86ed from that place back in the 80s for going off on management for towing my ART car from the lot.
The Art Car was a gold, 1977 Chevy Malibu, the ones with the five-foot-long front doors that weighed a couple hundred pounds, and a 350 under the hood, with a tiny trunk like it had its ass chopped off by the Gay Mafia, or something. Mine was all twisted up in front with a sick sideways grin, and the back bumper was smashed in so you had to hold the trunk closed with piece of rope. I bought it off my neighbor, who was the night manager of a popular music nightclub that I also worked at as a bouncer.
He was also a coke dealer and was coming of a real good binge. He had just wrecked his car and offered to sell it to me for twenty-five dollars. Well, I just happened to have that amount of money on me.
He said it didn’t drive cause the front end was pushed into the front wheel.
Well, I fixed that shit with a crow bar and my bare hands, and drove that fucker with the infamous “Friend of the Bands,” Patrice Von Arden Ellis, “The Stray Cat In Lilac Shoes,” for at least eight months… until the day Thriftway had it towed.
We had an understanding, I thought. I lived around the corner in a rooming house with aforementioned coke dealer on Flanders. Big salmon-colored house. Still there.
And I could park at the very back of the lot.
Needless, to say, I didn’t bother to come up with the cash to get my no-insurance, no- registration Art Car, aptly named by Patrice (“It’s like a metal sculpture on wheels…”) out of the tow impound under the freeway overpasses on NW 16th near the old Slabtown club.
On the other hand, I have another memory that says I sold the Art Car for $250 to get boozed up one night after my friend died of a coke overdose in ’82. I have no idea which memory is accurate. Maybe it’s both. Divergent. My life split down two different paths right then and there.
Which one am I on? Or can I jump back and forth between them…to stay one step ahead of the Portland Gay Mafia…
That’s what I would have said to him if I had stayed and taken his piss and vinegar flying at me in the, “Breathe Deep the Gathering Gentry Gloom, Intelligence Fades From Every Room.”
But I didn’t. “Mala Noche,” brother.
See you next rhyme, next open mic, next time these ships pass in the night…