Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Fiction from The Slammer in SE Portland


It’s twilight on a late June evening as I sit in a bar in Southeast Portland known as The Slammer. This time of year, twilight lasts a long time, and I live for the coming of the darkness. Nursing a whisky and noshing on some homemade fries, I gaze across the river to an area now known more infamously as the Pear District. A very upscale, gentrified part of Portland that has risen like a steel and glass phoenix from the abandoned warehouses, canneries, and breweries of old Portland.

Years ago, back when The Pearl was more of a decrepit oyster, a few bars began to spring up in the back streets of lower Northwest Portland and Chinatown. It was here that I was out one night with a couple of friends and a place called the Low Brow Lounge, dark interior with stiff drinks and none of the pretentiousness often found today. After a few solid hours of cocktails and beers, it was decided we should drive back home, after all it was only a Tuesday and of course we had to be at work in 7 hours. In my younger years the days of the week meant nothing when it came to going out on town, such is youth.

Arriving back at the car and realizing that I, the most sober of us three, was still a little too intoxicated to get behind the wheel, the gods of sour mash spoke to my ear. In those days the streets of the lower Northwest were often deserted of cars and people. Old train tracks, boarded up buildings and cobble-stone roads could still be found. So with the advice of the sour mash gods I popped the back of my trunk and pulled out my Callaway Big Bertha driver and a handful of golf balls. Now mind you, at 23 I had been playing golf for almost ten years. And has my buddies looked on, and without any way possible to place a tee into the cobble stone, I placed the ball “on the deck” (as it is known in to golf community when hitting a driver without a tee). The first two shots were a little thin, and skipped down the roadway several blocks, ping-ponging occasionally from one side of building to another.

The third ball I caught pure, the driver never touched the cobble-stone and the ball sailed in a straight direction until we all lost site of it in the darkness and mist that was falling. At that moment one of Portland’s finest just so happened to have witnessed this feat of skill, and on went the siren and lights.

When asked by the officer what I was doing, I simply explained that under my current level of inebriation I thought it better to sober up with a little drunk driving rather than performing the more thoughtless act of operating a motor vehicle. I even showed him where there were I left no skid marks on the sole of the club, that I had caught each ball flush which truly was a feat of skill given my current condition. Evidently this officer was not a golfer. Handcuffed and placed into the back of the squad car, I was hauled away. Not for drunk driving, just mere public intoxication.

Now as I sit here this evening in The Slammer (a home that was the sole survivor of a demolition of an upscale housing district back in the 30s or 40s to make way for wider roads and the redistricting of new business areas) I recount my narrative to the bartender. She tells me the ironic story of how a Portland police officer back in 1978 bought the bar and renamed it The Slammer. While he was only able to keep the bar a year, the name stuck and the new owners proudly display it on the sign out front.

I ask her how many strokes under par a jail-bird is worth, but she only gives me look that says she thinks I have had one too many. It is now dark and the lights of the glass towers of the Pearl show brightly. I might consider taking another swing out on the clean asphalt of Stark Street, but fear of hitting a transplanted Californian in the head with a Titleist shuns away this thought. I drink my whisky and try to think other places within the urban boundaries of Portland where I could still drive drunk, but a decade has past, Portland has changed. Too many people now dwell in the city, so I comfort myself in the basement of a home that has stayed the test of time and progress, happy to watch twilight disappear.

**This story was cut from my book in the editing process.
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