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.

8 Comments. Add To The Mix…

  1. I was born and raised in Oregon (Silverton to be exact) I couldn’t wait to leave this state and go anywhere but here. I traveled and did a lot of crazy stuff none of which I regret I had a blast during that time. I spent 10 years away from my home state and finally moved back. I lived in Portland for about a year my wife loves it there. As a photographer there are endless photo ops my favorite was just hoping on the Max and people watching. It was always interesting to see how the business people would shuffle away or make a disgusted face at the street people getting on. I have always wondered what their story is. I love that you only have to go a couple blocks and you are in a different culture of Portland. My favorite part of Portland is the Mississippi Ave area not only can you get great beer, down home southern cooking, amazing pizza, but if you find yourself in need of new toys you can stop into Shebop the all girls toy store. I was always warned about staying away from the food carts in the past but that is where the best food is in Portland. I don’t know if you like the outdoors but if you want an adventure and see some really beautiful waterfalls you should make a trip to Silverton those waterfalls will leave you speechless. You are in a location (as you already know) of endless fun and beauty. Enjoy your time in Portland I can’t wait to see you again your Vegas Pride show was awesome.

  2. It’s so nice to hear about someone loving our city as much we do. I hope we’re making you feel welcome!

  3. Been a while since I commented on your blog…I too was thinking of books today. I don’t read like I used to, I spend too much damn time on the internet. I went to a job interview for Booksmith on Haight St. I would love to work at this funky bookstore which has the same feel (although much much smaller) as Powell’s in Portland. SF has that damp, leaves everywhere, drizzly quality you described so well, now that we are entering our rainy season. Of course, you know SF well. I first developed a bit of a crush on you from watching YouTube videos of your stand-up from the nineties. You were hot!! But I was having a crush on an image that was twenty years old. But I prefer the current Margaret Cho, whom I can relate to much more than the younger Cho.

  4. Margaret ~ you are even more beautiful now. Believe it this time because the rest of us can see it.

  5. Speaking of beauty tips, I’ve been reading Mamie Van Doren’s blog. She is so incredibly progressive for her age. She writes about Pussy Riot, Universal Healthcare, and throws in advice on hair care, etc. She was making movies in the 1950s, so she goes WAY back.


    Margaret Cho and Mamie Van Doren: two amazing women from two different generations, but I’d love to hear you both in conversation.

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