Thursday, October 26, 2006

The American Experience I : Observation.

So I've gone to Portland, Oregon, and I'm finding it fascinating.

There is the strange feeling of connection I get from being here, in this landscape of asphalt, sycamore trees and concrete houses, like this is someplace I belong, or could belong; a feeling I don't get in any other country I've been to, except home.

There are the big, open streets, with wide sidewalks, that seem to open up a world of possibilities, and allowing people to breathe and move freely, filling my heart with joy and aspirations.

But there are also the lawns where dogs are forbidden.

There is the mad-woman crossing the street while cursing the falling leaves, singling out one of them, trembling on the ground, enduring her rant.

There is the flanell-shirt comboy cab driver who makes no effort to present his outfit as an ironic endeavour, for there is no irony there, it's just the way things are.

There are the barely-legal girls (some of whom also wear cowboy hats) strutting their new-grown shapes, forcing a grown man to look away, for legal or not legal, it can't be right.

There are the American flags unabashedly popping up everywhere, from giant textured flags hanging from the ceilings in malls, to the plastic stickers on the windows in the public transportation trains, quitely (but not that subtly) telling the story of patriotism and nationalism to the public every minute of every day.

There is the crew-cut security guard with a black hat standing importantly in the middle of the mall, his gaze unflickering, his back perched, his hands resting strongly on his buckle in a pose that is supposed to be powerful, but just looks completely ridiculous to someone spoilt by liberty and human rights, and you just have to wonder what makes this guy laugh.

There are people with old-school mullets; mullets that have weathered the storms of fashion for twenty years, and that now - due to the inevitable aging that follows the passing of time - look like the thinning manes of lions.

There are the 45 year old men with trailer caps, moustaches, vacant eyes, and mouths half-open with stupor, wearing glasses that must still be manifactured somewhere, still be available for purchase somewhere, but I do wonder where.

There are the 30 year old bald men with spare rib pot bellies and that neatly trimmed, circular moustache-and-beard thing that seems to be so popular over here, but that invariably evokes the image of female pubic hair in my mind.

There are the young, rugged hipsters, touting their portable Macs in offbeat cafes at odd hours, presumably creating interactive content for the new web, or maybe just writing emails to their moms, or chatting with their friends, which are perfectly reasonable things to do, and there's no reason for me to be overly cynic about it.

There are the hippest of the young hipsters, treating life as a cabaret and dressing accordingly.

Sadly, there are also young people who are filthy, with smeared hands and unwashed clothes, some of whose eyes' whites have turned a tainted, polluted grey, and I have to wonder how and why they ended up like that, and whether or not it's irreversible, if everything can still be OK.

There are the people sitting on corners, with no clear agenda, some homeless, some crippled.

There are the grimy-faced one-dollar bills, veteran footsoldiers of the world's strongest economy, unassuming yet relentless in their battle-worn attire.

There are the smiling, almost flirtatious waitresses using their feminine charms to try to coax me into ordering whatever oversized dessert they have to offer, forcing me to fend them off with ridiculously big tips. It is strange - I never before associated lust and food so directly, but here, it seems, eating is a pleasure of the flesh, just as any.

There are the people carrying their buckets of sugared liquid, often topped with whipped cream, that they suck on, as if they were on life support.

There are the hopelessly and shapelessly obese, whose skeletons no longer seem adequate to maneuver their bodies, making them look like sad, flabby marionettes.

There are kids already on that trail of physical degradation, hiding their growing bodies in brand-new, loose-fitting clothes.

There is the hilarious TV commercial for a giant dinosaur-bone-driven machine sucking up leaves from the lawn, big as a house.

There is the fact that it is problem-free to use medication as an amusing metaphor for curing boredom on the hotel TV entertainment program ("Are you showing classic symptoms of boredom? Try one yellow button [on the remote control] for immediate relief. Repeat as necessary!")

There are the ubiquotous commericals for actual medications, and an apparent tendency to regard normal deviations as pathologies to be cured by chemical therapy.

There is all of this and more, a mixture of sanity and madness, and - like I said - I feel strangely connected to this place. There's something at work here that resonates with me somehow, although I can't quite express what it is. It feels human.

In some alternate reality, perhaps, this could be my home.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Simon said...

This is a beautiful post. Well written, and really captures the feel of the place. Brilliant.

2:23 AM  
Blogger the punk programmer said...

Thanks, that's much appreciated!

12:39 AM  

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