If you live in Portland, Oregon, you have been instructed to be weird.
KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD, as a slogan, is annoying on a few levels. One, the mantra was flat stolen from Austin, Texas. Not only did a local merchant commandeer the KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD phrase but trademarked it too, and commenced selling bumper stickers. Also, it seems to refer to what is now a sort of manufactured eccentricity. Yes, we have a naked bike ride every year. Yes, some dude plays flaming bagpipes in a Darth Vader mask on a unicycle. Yes, people knit sweaters for trees and street signs. It gets to be old hat. Are we the most-tattooed city in America? I do not know. The whole country is inked. If we wanted to be weird, we’d be flaunting our Original Skin.
Still, there are some things that characterize us, including a disdain of certain kinds of pretense and fashion, in favor of other kinds. Men’s facial hair is never to be clearcut. You are expected to roll down your gear-side pants leg if you’re going to the symphony. But it shouldn’t cost much to fit in. That’s a good thing, I contend.
That might even be a clue to whatever weirdness we do effect. It didn’t use to cost much to live here. If you were a young person you could roll in and do a rotation on friends’ sofas and live on three-dollar burritos and do pretty well for yourself. If you wanted to do something artistic, you could probably afford to. Get yourself layers of flannel, economize on soap, stand in line for a half-hour for a technicolor donut with bubble gum sprinkles, and you’re good to go.
You’re not going to have to adhere to normal urban standards of comportment or couture. Your fancy hairdo is just going to get wet anyway. People overcome by artistic tendencies or aspirations can come here and art-away, and It helps that no one is vetting the art. In fact, no one is paying much attention at all.
You could set up your card table on the sidewalk and sell your swirly orgasmic-goddess doodles to, eventually, your friends, and do quite well for yourself.
Problem is, now it does cost a lot to live here. And so many people have moved here to be weird that it’s a real struggle to find a new way to do it. A street tree with a cardigan on it now just looks as normal and disheveled as the residents camped under it.
Also weird? We don’t seem to have a lot of mass shootings, for a city our size. Less massive shootings, yes, plenty, more and more of them all the time. It’s getting downright loud out there. I was wondering why we haven’t had much in the way of genuine massacres. It would be nice if Portland had passed that ballot initiative requiring eighteen-year-old white males to be registered with the city and stay in the basement until they turn twenty-five, but the ACLU had a fit over that, and we’re ACLU people here.
Well, I have a theory about our poor showing in the mass-murder Olympics. I’ll tell you next time.