Reviews of My Life: Pacific Northwest

By Bud Smith



Bagby Hot Springs @ Mt. Hood National Forest
Two stars ★★★☆☆

Couple million Christmas trees slapped wherever, and some wood slat Daffy Duck tubs filled with water heated by lava. You climb in the tubs and go ahhhh. 45 minute walk from the parking lot. A dog named George caught up with us on the trail and George’s owners called from behind, “George!” and “Hey George come back here!” We would have kept George but he was a labradoodle. It was Friday the 13th and the trail looked exactly like the kind of trail you would get killed on, so I didn't tell Rae it was Friday the 13th. She was just whistling and happy passing through the sinister mist towards the dilapidated cabins, abandoned and collapsing. Hood up. Backpack on. “George!”

Three Stars ★★★☆☆

Bunch of moss and puddles.

Washington State
1 Star. ★☆☆☆☆

1 star. Everybody in Oregon told me it was ugly, though. So maybe I was influenced by that.

Turkey the cat
1.5 Stars ★☆☆☆☆

Has a brother named Ham who is dead. We are assuming for the sake of this review that all cats in Portland have a dead brother who was better than them. Turkey is more baby goat than cat. Stub tail. Drools. Fur like straw. One time I said I was Team Turkey. Haha. I was just fucking around. 

Ludwig VonCat
3 stars. ★★★☆☆

Three stars is the highest ranking any cat can achieve. Ludwig belongs to the American writer, Kevin Maloney. Kevin has two cats to be exact, Ludwig and the aforementioned, and inferior, Turkey. Ludwig is the superior cat by more than 1.5 stars, but it would be higher if it was possible to rank a cat higher than 3 stars. Ludwig is a domestic short hair tabby with a handsome face, and a fine lustrous coat that seems to shimmer as if he is fed fresh fish everyday. No. He’s fed the same shitty cat food out of a can as Turkey, it’s just that Turkey is not good looking, and has nearly worthless fur. Ludwig meows on average 7 times a day. Turkey meows on average 42 times a day. Ludwig meows like music. As you work on your internet exposes in the sunny apartment, Ludwig’s meows drive your work and bring happiness. Turkey needs to shut the fuck up. I’m closing the door. Ah, it doesn’t latch, I’m putting a chair in front of it, take that Turkey you miserable little shit. As legend has it, Ludwig had a brother who was even better, but we won’t talk about that because the memory of Ludwig’s deceased brother is painful to everyone. When my wife and I first arrived at Kevin Maloney’s apartment on Rosa Parks Avenue in Northwest Portland, we were greeted with a neatly handwritten letter warning us of the dangers of  letting Ludwig sit on your lap because he was once frightened by a sudden police siren, or ambulance, and the big feline leapt up and slammed his concrete block cat head into Kevin’s jaw, causing Maloney to become dazed and to have a ring of tweety birds flying around his head like in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Turkey, perhaps seeing these birds herself, jumped off the table and claws out, she set about attacking the tweety birds out of the air, further injuring Kevin’s face. There is one bad thing about Ludwig (which I’m told his brother brother did not do, as a matter of fact) and that is, Ludwig will park his butthole right in line with your face. Reading a book? No you’re not, here’s Ludwig’s butthole. But lest we not judge the living against the dead, and their memory, Ludwig is squeaking by with his three star rating. He really is a beautiful cat. I’m Team Lud all the way.

Portland, Or
Six Stars. ★★★★★★
Lots of bars and restaurants. Ivy. Vaguely Jurassic in its vegetation. There was a park with a random rose garden that we walked through. Gentle soaking rain. Rather beautiful. Orange bicycles you could rent for the day if you have no shame. And on the topic of shame, Portland is superior to Brooklyn because everyone either seems ashamed to live there, or bemoans that it is not as great as it used to be. Brooklyn on the other hand, most NYC morons will tell you has never been better, a fine piece of fruit just getting ripe. I loved Portland and its people because they seemed irritated with their city and were poised to either move away, or toss their hunk of overripe fruit in the compost garbage can found on every green, mossy, deep-puddled street corner. Portlanders talk about fleeing to El Paso, Texas; Humbolt County, California; Wichita, Kansas; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Portlanders talk about packing up their canvases and vinyl records and heading to Boise, Idaho, where an artist can still make it—where perhaps, no one else has heard of the band Slint.

The average Portlander is 22 years old and striking in both mind and body. A quick wit, and a good looking knit cap, pulled back to just the right sag. Nose rings, and tattoos of melting rainbow wizard skeletons holding melting slices of pizza. The average Portlander plays in a band that is named after something their grandmother said once. They are akin to New Jerseysians, because they too had a popular TV show made to mock their culture, and they too don’t talk about it very much. However, I will say, Snooki is alright.

The other thing that I liked about Portland was that you could walk straight into oncoming traffic and the cars would stop, and make no fuss about it. That might have been because Kevin Maloney is 6’6” tall and the people driving the cars didn’t want to total their vehicles. He’d just walk out into traffic, often wearing a Canadian tuxedo and a trucker hat, and the cars would just come to a happy halt, and we’d all follow Kevin and all give each other friendly little waves, hi hello, have a great day. But I was most inspired by this pedestrian virtue of Portland, because where I am from in lousy Jersey City, cars don’t stop. They will kill you. Then they will criticize you once you are dead. The American writer, Joey Grantham was living with us in the month of September, 2016 and he was almost squashed flat by a maroon Toyota Tercel while walking home from work. He was at the intersection of JFK Blvd and Montgomery Ave. when the near-death experience happened. He had the walk signal and began to trot across the intersection, when in swooped the maroon Toyota, passing within inches of crushing Joey into a red paste. The driver pulled over just a few feet away and hung his head out the window, and said, “I almost kilt you, bro.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Killllt you, bro. Hahaha.”

“Thanks, yeah. That’s what happened.”

“Hahaha. Fucking killllt you, bro. You fucking lucky. Dead little bro, hahaha.” The maroon Toyota moved along, Joey adventured the rest of the way to our apartment. A survivor. One of the ordinary heroes of the block we all lived on.   

The Grover Family
97 Accumulative Stars (I’m not going paste all the stars here, just visualize them)

The Grover family had us over for pizza one night during our visit, so we got to see their home, and do a little tour of the fine hamlet known as Gresham, Or, a suburb of Portland proper. Fine city. It reminded me of my hometown, Bayville. But, ya know, no bay, and everything was green, there’s not much green in Bayville. Mike and Frani were our hosts for the evening. Frani, a real estate agent, and advocate for the homeless; and Mike, a union electrician, and photographer; together they have seven children, none of them children anymore, I don't know why I used that word. I met some of the children during the Grover family pizza-pow-wow, and the ones I didn’t meet, I have heard excellent things about. I like all the children and I’m giving them a bunch of stars each, for different reasons, but I’m not going to get into it because this review is nearly 1300 words and I don’t think people read things this long on the internet anymore. I will give a shout out though to Martha Grover, who joined us at her parent’s house for pizza. Martha is an American writer who has recently been lauded as “The Voice of Portland”. The night stretched on, the cider and red wine flowed. Around midnight, the door opened and one of the youngest Grover’s appeared right while I was in the midst of a heated lecture I like to call The People’s History of New Jersey. She sat down and I regaled her with factoids about the garden state and its citizens, who I explained, were not much different than Oregonians in their temperament and disposition, and true love of their lands. Even if NJ just had sugar sand and some diseased pine trees, we as a group felt we could hold our pine barrens up against any deep elven forestry that Oregon had to offer. Of course I was saying all this before I had been to Mt. Hood National Forest, in my opinion the USA’s premier forest, hands down. In hindsight the pine barrens are rather pathetic in comparison. But, hey, invite me over for dinner and you will hear my lecture The People’s History of New Jersey. It’s on the bill. As Martha left for the evening, she said it was a shame I didn’t get to meet her sister, Zoe. It was Zoe’s birthday. So, I’ll say it here because I didn’t get to say it in person, Happy Birthday Zoe Grover, I hope this is the best year of your life. One last comment on the Grover household. They had a cat, whose name I didn’t learn during my stay. A ginger cat. He seemed like a bit of a jerkoff. Or at least, not friendly. But perhaps I had grown too fond of Kevin Maloney’s cats, Turkey and Ludwig, both of them overly friendly cat-dogs. I gave the ginger cat 1 star, as I lowered myself onto the inflatable mattress in the spare bedroom, the mattress feeling like an inflatable miracle. Rae and I fell into a deep sleep, satisfied to know people as fine as the Grover Family. God Bless, America.

7 stars. ★★★★★★★

Ah the gorge caught on fire. It was a big thing. We drove out there and looked at where the fire had burnt everything. Some kids playing with fireworks. Frani says that some people want to make the kids pay for what they’ve done, levee some impossible fine. She has empathetic sympathy in her voice. Mike says, They’ll have to live with what happened for their whole lives. No one died. I hope they let it go. The fire was out now. Just a slight smoldering up on the ridge. Frani parked the Volvo and we all scrambled up this steep trail. Beacon Rock. 1000 feet above sea level and overlooking a canyon that was who knows how far down below sea level. A little sign said flooding during the ice age had carved all the stuff away. It reminded me of something—running water is the best editor. Everybody, go throw your novel into white water rapids. While we were up there, admiring the staggering beauty, I wasn’t sure if I was looking at Oregon or Washington State, but then I remembered the old adage: if it’s beautiful it’s Oregon, it’s not beautiful it’s Washington State. Since it was all beautiful, I concluded it was in fact, all Oregon. And I was right. On the 1000 foot or more journey down Beacon Rock, Mike stopped to talk to men in camouflage who were only halfway up the rock and staring with mouths open at who knows what. We’d seen these guys in that spot on the way up, and here they were in the same spot on the way down. They explained that they were fishermen and had climbed the rock to do the serious preliminary work required of fishermen. As they looked out across the land, they could see many sources of water, and this was the absolute best way to figure out which ones were worth fishing. See, I was wrong, as I often am. On first impression I thought they were just dangerous dipshits. Turnouts out they were harmless fishermen who didn’t know how to use the internet.

Killian Czuba
10 stars. ★★★★★★★★★★

Killian Czuba lives in the St. John’s neighborhood of Portland with her husband Dan. We met them both for omelettes. He had a classic philosopher’s beard, and she was sporting black hair with the tips dyed bright green. They are a great couple, and a must-see for anyone thinking of visiting the area. Killian is the second in command at Barrelhouse, only lower on the totem pole to Sheila Squillante (also, 10 stars). An interesting fact about Killian is that her family gets together every Sunday and eats donuts together as a family. Imagine that? Every Sunday, the whole family gathered together eating donuts? Wow. It’s all very idyllic. The local donut shop, Tulip’s, shut down because of gentrification and now the family makes their own donuts, at home, yeah, idyllic as hell. Donuts at home.

Nobody would shut up about donuts all while I was visiting Portland. As a matter of fact, while I was boarding the airplane to leave Portland, I saw a skinny man with a box of donuts from the most famous donut shop in Portland. This determined and spirited man had gone through the rough and tumble trouble of getting those fantastical donuts through security. That’s a funny thing about Portland, too, all through the airport there are signs boasting that Portland International Airport is the best airport in America and has been for the last five years. Okay? Who fucking cares?

I asked the skinny donut man, “What, they don’t have donuts where you’re going?”

“Actually, no. And what do you care?”

I said, “Well I don’t really care. But the people reading this exposé might.”

“What exposé?”

I said, “It’s called Reviews of My Life and it’s a hit. It looks like you’re in my life right now, so if I was you I would follow the advice of that famous Anne Lamott quote, lest ye be struck down on the world wide web, and maybe even in a book out with Penguin if it all works out, long run.”

“What quote?”

The airline started boarding us, and as we moved towards the gate, I explained, “The quote goes, you own everything that happens to you, If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better …”

Donut man said, “Sure. You’re the asshole here though.” He laughed and turned his head like the encounter was over, but then I regaled him with two anecdotes about his cherished donut shop. The first involved a man I’d met two nights prior who had gotten married in that very donut shop in 2008. Instead of rice, they’d thrown Froot Loops. That same man had then, on a different date, been filmed in a crowd in the donut shop, the footage was used in a Mudhoney music video. How about that, I said. The man was so annoyed by this, he said dramatically, “If there is a God, they will not put me anywhere near you on this airplane.” So, that was the end of our dealings. I didn't get to tell my final anecdote about that donut shop, and didn't think it appropriate for public discussion anyway, but I thought I’d use this opportunity here to tell it to you. Apparently this famous donut shop had had some crazy promo scheme that they had used to try and draw in a feverish crowd of consumers. The tactics included: donuts filled with a shots of NyQuil; other donuts filled with Pepto-Bismol; and finally, a contest to see who could pile the most donuts on their own erect penis. The donut shop was fined and briefly shut down by the board of health. But hey, got me talking.

Por Que No
3.5 stars ★★★

A taco place that everyone raves about. Best tacos in Portland! Best tacos in Portland! The line stretches around the block. Best tacos in Portland! Okay. 3 point five stars I said. If you want a real taco, go to Downtown Taqueria not too far from my place. Or, if you're scared of Jersey City, go to Mexico.

Food Trucks
Results Inconclusive

We didn't go to any food trucks while we were in Portland. Sure, I like food. Sure, I like trucks. Instead, I went to various restaurants and ate under a roof that blocked the gentle soaking rain. At one of these restaurants I was even so bold as to order a corn dog. That’s the kind of city Portland is. You can get a $12 corn dog that is billed with gusto as the best corn dog in Portland. I ate it. It was fine. Our waitress reminded me of the character Juno from the film, Juno. She was a really spunky wiseacre. “How you like your corn dog?” I explained how you can’t get a corn dog in New Jersey. You just can’t. They don’t have corn dogs on any menus I’ve ever seen in New Jersey, so one of the great perks about traveling around the country, is that I got to do crazy things like order corn dogs at actual fancy restaurants. Juno raised her eyebrows so high they almost fell off the top of her head and she gave gave me a look that seemed to say, suuuure thing, Captain Corn Dog.

8.75 stars. ★★★★★★★★

Rich stuff, Mikey, rich stuff!
Ahhhh! It’s the Frattelli’s!
And there was an octopus!
Sure there was Chunk, sure there was!
Annie! You … Goonie!
That’s my mom’s favorite part!
Slick shoes!
Yeah, but you know what? (holds up a moldy nickel) This one, this one right here... this was my dream, my wish. And it didn't come true. So I'm taking it back. I'm taking them all back.

Kevin Maloney
20 stars ★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★

And ladies, he’s single.


 Bud Smith reports from Jersey City, NJ. Twitter: @bud_smith He wrote F250, Calm Face, and Dustbunny City, among others. He works heavy construction, and lives in Jersey City, NJ.