Since 2004, Portland's Only Bar Trivia That Matters.
I wanna tell y'all about my Mom and Dad, and how they died, and how I barely survived it. I get to use “y'all” as much as I want, by the way, because I cannot remember a time when I didn't say it. Mom was from Philly, so she never uttered it. But Dad was from north Florida, and I grew up in southwestern Virginia, so me and my sister always have. She even still says “fixin' to” like 30 times a day (by which she means “about to”).
People in Ohio make fun of her, but Bill Clinton says that shit, too (and he was like, totally President). My brother don't say him no “y'all” (note the introduction of pretense here), but that's because he was just a tiny child when we left Appalachia. I didn't really wanna write about this shit. But then I couldn't think of anything else to write about for a spell, so I reckoned I might as well spin a yarn that, if nothing else, could not possibly be boring. Okay, I'll let up a bit on the colloquial speech. Here we go.
By an absurd medical coincidence, my mother and father died, 8 hours apart, on January 18th, 1999. The three days that led up to their passing (and the four years of terror and desperation that followed) changed my view of everything about myself and the world, forever - like nothing else I could ever imagine, or would ever attempt to describe. Despite several painful injuries, ailments, and surgeries that have occurred since, I am still a complete wimp when it comes to physical pain. I'm the first guy to demand more pain killers (even if they weren't prescribed to me). And when I get sick, I'll whine like a baby. But when it comes to shouldering emotional trauma, I am a fucking pro. Shit goes wrong with the lady? Fine. I almost enjoy crying. At least crying, as I've said, is not mundane.
I also enjoy puking every now and then. And on very rare occasions, I even like to cry until I puke. That shit is intense. I'm not even kidding at all. There is a strange space you can enter, after extended periods of pain, in which to weep is to indulge oneself. It becomes a rite of passage - into nothing more than the morning or afternoon hours of a given day, and the demands that day asks of you. This kind of hurt is all too often addressed and suppressed with prescribed anxiolitics (klonopin, valium, xanax, etc). While it is undeniable that these drugs can control the panic, I also believe they indefinitely suppress it. And I think they are only slightly more productive than the drugs I used to dull the pain that followed the loss of the best friend I have ever had, Irene Smallwood.
My mom was on the 7th floor of Temple University hospital, and my dad was on the 2nd. I was supposed to be there on Thursday, but a snow-and-ice storm made my pilot circle Philly several times before being diverted down to Raleigh. When I got there, I used a pay-phone to call my friend in Portland (thank you, Kip) and get the number of a guy who was in the (totally fucking awesome) band Cherry Valence, whom I'd met and entertained when they came to Portland. He came to the airport and got me, and I went on a whirlwind, forget-it-all tour of Raleigh, NC. I can't even remember his name, but I want to thank him and everyone who entertained me that night (most of whom would likely never remember having done so).
Anyway, after breakfast they drove me to the airport – and it was all downhill from there. The crazy thing about the Atlantic seaboard – the thing nobody who lives more than 200 miles from it ever experiences - is that, at any moment, even after a blizzard, it might just be time to put on shorts. It's nuts. (Although, as a weather enthusiast, I must point out that Denver surpasses all other cities in this winter-extremes category). Anyway - Mom and Dad were so inconsiderate, they had the audacity to be dying in Philadelphia, in January, when it was 70 degrees and sunny outside. It really pissed me off. I wanted it to be grim. But, with just me and my sister holding down those two sleepless forts on the floors that housed our parents, I could only steal a few minutes at a time to go outside and scream. And when I did, it was absolutely beautiful out. In fucking January.
On the second night, I accidentally experienced the power of popular music in a way I never have before or since. Those of you who know me know it's not my thing at all. Anyway, there came a small window of time in which mom and dad were both at peace, and Tommi and I had to steal some semblance of normalcy. Tommi had been staying with Dad, who was by then completely sedated. I'd been with Mom, whose heart was failing. Her kidneys had stopped filtering out toxins, and she was very gradually losing lucidity from the toxins those kidneys no longer filtered out, and I'd spent the last 18 hours trying to wrest those last bits of clarity and remember them forever. One of the worst signs was that I gave her a Peppermint Patty, and she did not want to eat it. That had certainly never happened before.
Anyway, we met up in some nurse's lounge that was apparently VIP, which we had access to only because the entire hospital staff was now aware of our extreme circumstances. The movie "Booty Call" was played on VHS, and I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I've not seen it since, and it may or may not suck, but at the time it represented normal stuff, which was a godsend. If I had to guess, I'd say it is good. Anyway, I hadn't slept in 2 days, and we clearly needed to eat at this point, and of course we wanted steak sandwiches. AKA "Steaks", as all the signs read in Philadelphia - dating back to the first 30 years of that culinary miracle before anyone even put cheese on them.
My mom came from a part of northeast Philly called Juniata, where Taliano's was the standard when Tommi and I were there very frequently from the mid 70s to early 80s. My grandmother (the last of our maternal elders, who died ten days later) used to say that "nothing fucks up a steak more than cheese" (but she wouldn't pronounce the word "fuck"). The style up there was called a "steak with sauce", which now you would order in most spots as a "pizza steak" without cheese (although you can still say the aforementioned phrase in older places, like Lorenzo's on 9th and Christian - one of perhaps 50 places you should go for a cheesesteak instead of Pat's or Geno's the next time you're there).
Don't get me wrong - I fucking love me a cheesesteak (but they only have onions on them, and never bell peppers or mushrooms, EVER, and the cheese is most often a sharp white American you can't get here, and not provolone or the "wiz" propagated by the fascist Geno's that is exported by media as the standard, but which only a minority of Philadelphians eat, and mostly only tourists and people with New Jersey plates on their cars ever asked me for directions to when I lived there, and you NEVER mix the goddamn cheese into the meat, but rather cradle the meat in it).
Wait, what was I speakin' on? Oh, yeah - the cheesesteak you think is good is a pile of dogshit. Oh, no - it was my dying momma, and the power of popular music. So my sister had been in that (pretty rough) part of town for close to a week before this, and had scouted out a good spot. I was more than happy to get out. As I left the hospital parking garage, I heard this unbelievable song called "Back That Ass Up" for the first time. And it even had the "ass" instead of the "thang" I heard later. I cackled with laughter like a madman. Then came this tune by Lauryn Hill called "Zion". It had absolutely nothing to do with anything going on in my world, but I wept like a baby - purely from the emotions invoked by her voice. I got them steaks, and they even had the hot red-and-green cherry peppers instead of the vastly-inferior banana peppers, and we ate them, and they were the greatest food ever produced by humans. Then some other stuff happened that I can't afford the time to write about now. To be continued, I reckon.
I gotta piece together a moral summation or I can't post this. Motherfuckers die all the time. And you ain't dead. So do stuff. And don't be afraid of crying, because it's awesome. Wow, that was lame. I'll finish this story later, though. Roy out. By the way, Shut Up And Eat here in Portland makes a pretty goddamn good steak. I wish I could get them to cradle the cheese and not mix it in, but it is still really solid. Best outside of Philly I ever had. My folks woulda loved it.
Editor's (my) note, 8/12/14: That steak sandwich is a piece of shit. I retract everything good I said about it. I guess I got lucky once, but then I asked for light cheese and it was drowned in goo (flavorless provolone) and the steak was full of fat and required lots of gnawing. Then a friend brought another one home recently, and it wasn't as bad, but fuck that place. If you go to Steakadelphia and get the extra meat option (with NOTHING but steak and onions and cheese, like an actual Philly sandwich has), that's about as good as you can do in Portland. At least they have the good sense not to mix the cheese all into the meat - which is an abomination you never see at any legitimate Philadelphia steak shop. The price is a 275% markup over Philly, but it's not bad.