Party Like it’s 1998

Here’s another one from September 1998. It was one of those long, end-of-summer nights that filled me with restlessness. I remember wandering all over downtown Portland, which back then still had its share of transient hotels and seedy dive bars. I was restless when I got home, so I fired up the giant 486 with the CRT monitor and typed away. This piece is pretty raw, but I think it does a nice job of capturing the vibe of that particular evening.


ubrtI walked down the night street with a hollow feeling in my chest. It had been fiercely hot for over a week and the city was a tomb. Parking spaces, usually a rarity, were everywhere . In restaurants I passed, waiters went about their few tasks with a set determination to see the night through and get it the hell over with.

I had been drinking. Maybe that accounted for my emptiness. It felt like my soul had been sucked out. Maybe it had. I had met  people I considered soulless, and perhaps now I was becoming one of them. I’m dead but I won’t lie down.

I went to Higgins’ and sat down at the bar. There was an overstuffed blonde holding court at the far end, talking ceaselessly about fiction or history or something. She wouldn’t shut up, and her pallid attempts at listening were merely pauses while she waited for her friend to finish talking so she could continue. I understand that, the talking. I used to be that way, using my arsenal of trivia and invective to impress and thwart my company. Good at a party, but a godawful bore at the dinner table.

The barman came by and took my order, making a fast weak drink and gliding by, setting it down noiselessly.

“Cheers,” he said with downturned mouth. Hilarious, since I looked like I’d been at a funeral marathon. I looked at my face in the polished mirror. It seemed ashen, eyes hollow and crazy. I glared at myself and sucked down the drink, setting the glass and the money down with a silent speed that rivaled the barman’s. Out the door, into the street.

I passed two long-haired hippy-types. From a distance they looked like pans, but as I got closer I saw one of them had an extra-big coffee cup. They were roadies bitching about work outside the stage door. “Toni Braxton was the worst. One time I…”

I walked past.

There were fireworks going off over the ballfield as the final game of the summer ended. The sound of the explosions bounced off the buildings, back and forth until it sounded like machinegun fire. I thought of all the combat men that would have to override their war instincts to avoid ducking down the street, running for cover.

At the Brasserie the bar was full, all men and all staring straight ahead as though standing at the urinals after a long movie. The drink was much stronger this time, and I spent my time gazing at a tall blonde sitting by the pillar. Her boyfriend was sitting next to her, but I couldn’t see him. I thought about how people pair off, how in the beginning there was mystery and romance, passion and discovery. Then things settled down, routines were established and they each had a side of the bed. Then they fought, made up and fought again. It seemed like a lot of work. The blonde had a colossal body, but I wondered if he even saw it anymore. You get used to anything, I supposed.

I paid and left, the barman having never left the far end of the bar during my entire stay.

As I walked uptown I felt like crying. I was taking a subtle beating this night, like fighting an opponent two divisions down from you. Lots of little hits you barely even feel until you’re on the canvas. I didn’t have far to go.

I turned up Washington and made my way back to Cassidy’s. It’s right across from the Überhaus, so I go there a lot. I used to work there once, and in a way it felt like my parents’ house. I knew what to expect, and it wasn’t much.

It was slow as always. I sat between a man I’ve known a while, a wild-haired stunted genius who has held the exact routine for over fifteen years. An interesting talker, and just as content to sit silent. I used to wonder what went on in his head as he sat there for hours, so one day I asked him. He was thinking about a Pink Floyd concert he’d been to years before. Another time he was recalling Jack Johnson. I never knew what to expect from him, yet it was always the same.

After a while, Casey popped down next to me, finished with his shift. He’s a guy who is endlessly cool and steady, a natural soldier.

“Dude, got any pot?”

No, I said. Two weeks there’ll be so many buds in Portland that we’ll be making tea with them, but the last weeks of August are notoriously dry times.

“It happens every year,” said Paul from behind the bar. “People ought to stock up.”

I could tell from his calm demeanor that he had taken this precaution; he possessed none of the frantic, jonesy look that so many wore at the summers’ end.

I should have too, I suppose, but my mind doesn’t work that way.


Don't just stand there.