Adventures In Portland
My trip to Portland began with the purpose of a job interview and gradually evolved into making Halloween decorations with my brother-in-law John. One thing I know about the guy is that he's a very accomplished conversationalist and is capable of speaking on an expansive range of topics covering anything between the film "Dude Where's My Car?", the social life of lumberjacks, and even the sordid history of a local restaurant-turned-porno-shop.
"You know why it's called the One-Eyed Cobra, right??" He said laughing, as he drove me from the train station, along with his mother in the front seat next to him.
After a 17 hour train ride and a case of overwhelming allergies, I wondered if anything I was experiencing was real. When I found myself stuffing a clown suit with plastic bags, I accepted the random nature of this strange new universe.
John has always makes a personal goal to top whatever seasonal decorations he had on his front lawn the previous year, much in the same way he monthly tops his voicemail message with a new theme. When I first approached the house it was guarded by a group of ominous black shrouded creatures creatively fashioned out of trash bags and wire. There were at least two disembodied hands and feet within eye-sight at all times, either laying on a grave or hanging in a tree.
"The goal is to literally scare the piss out all the little kids in the neighborhood," he told me.
The clown suit I was stuffing was a costume John had purchased on sale but realized was one size too small. Being resourceful, John makes use of whatever materials he has around. Even christmas lights came in handy for turning his shrub into a giant jack-o-lantern. His plan for the clown was to have it hanging from a noose over his driveway.
I traced an old pair of John's boots on a large piece of foam he had refused to recycle for this specific purpose. Surprisingly I didn't need to exaggerate much, and he cut them out and spray-painted them green for the clown's feet. Then we got to work on the head, which was a repurposed plastic skull we covered in painted duct-tape to imitate flesh.
While we did this he told me stories of "Uncle Sam," a Special Forces Marine who lived before there was such a thing as a "Special Forces Marine." His accomplishments included diving into a frozen lake to retrieve a dead body, locking a drunken wife-beater in the trunk of his car, and again locking a bartender in his own freezer so that his underage boys could have a drink. Such a legacy.
My job interview hadn't gone great, mostly because it wasn't much of an interview. Despite my attempts to arrange a meeting in advance there was no one for me to really meet with and I was told they wouldn't be hiring a new batch of employees until the next month, or possibly next year. I did, on the other hand, get a few free cups of coffee, which was a nice consolation prize.
Feeling the need to accomplish something on the trip, I applied to a Good Will store for a shift supervisor position, which I didn't expect to do but found myself feeling good about.
Before my trip back I spent the morning watching John tie a rope to a bottle and repeatedly attempt to throw it over a tree branch without damaging any of the cars in the driveway, which proved to be quite a challenge. He lovingly named the clown "Herpes" and hoisted it up into the air, it's decrepit face grinning to all who pass it, or look out their second floor window.
Whether he's telling you about his old foul-mouthed co-workers by the docks, biker gangs in Montana, or Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, John always seems to have a topic to wear the hours the away. I felt as though I was quiet for most of the trip, but with John around not much needs to be said. Uncle Sam has his own stories, but it's a guy like John who people want to talk about. Now I have some stories of my own.