Lately, I have been staycationed (as opposed to stationed, as I am not really doing anything in particular) in Portland, OR, a city where I have never lived but have visited often over the years. The immense paper and printed church of reading, or Powell’s, as it is known by name, always gave me at least an entire day if not a week of indescribable pleasure.
There’s a smell to old books, it’s clean with a hit of rot, like mildew or compost, not bad, not exactly sulphurous, but not exactly not. It’s a captivating odor, and it reminds me of innocent years, before drugs and real live sex (both casual and dressy) and all the complications thereof; of Saturdays without school, or that interminable expanse of between time after school and before dinner, those before years, before everything that adulthood came to be, that decade or so, was filled with the silent scent and sentinel of books.
Of course I have my kindle fire now, which will unfortunately always trump a good old dog eared 10 cent first edition whatever – and the canny device censors and screens me, only delivering relatively recent publications, popular enough to be digitized, leaving behind the ages of books I am accustomed to loving – odd autobiographies from half crazed has beens, gorgeous manifestos of the never weres also rans, strange tomes dedicated to new schools of nutrition and exercise, and the best – femininity manuals from soon to be forgotten and fading yet still famously celebrated beauties – touting yoga and flavorless foods and awareness of your own particular facets and flaws as the keys to their fabulous kingdoms.
Marlene Dietrich had a good extreme one, probably published in the 50s or so, an ABCs of beauty, her lexicon of glamour – and it was as harsh as you could imagine. She advocated eating once every three days and stifling your hunger with hot water and sex. I don’t disagree, as I have never tried it, so I can’t speak to its efficacy – but I am not doing that no matter how gorgeous she was. At Dietrich’s apex, she looked a great deal like Selene Luna, and so that makes her beautiful in my book, and everyone else’s.
My Portland days haven’t been filled with reading, not so far. Mostly walking a bull terrier with a dear friend, who allows me to squat in his sweet abode for unspecified lengths of time, sometimes passing hipsters who say quietly “was that?….”
There’s clouds, lots of rain. Perpetual leaves on the ground. The damp could drive me mad if I were inclined towards madness. I think mostly of Elliott smith, and how I miss his music, and what he could have been, should have been. I miss my friend Fred Armisen, and the numerous bizarre dreams I have of his Portlandia character Spike, the one with the big earlobe piercings. I am both sexually attracted and repulsed by the character – and Fred understands this, and we have laughed and pondered the conundrum at great length.
I think about Portlandia and the dreams of the 90s that I once had (I love that song they do!), with my long, unkempt but still stunningly gorgeous and shiny hair, falling almost to the waistband of my vintage rust Levi’s corduroy pants (I was astonishingly beautiful in the 90s – a fact I am only just coming to understand and appreciate now, almost 20 years later, sigh). I wonder if I could still do it, play guitar in a riot grrl band and then crush the opposition in roller derby – all the while worrying about my fragile but freakishly talented hands, as I spin silently around the rink, cruising then bruising, without mercy and without warning, as has always been my way.