Monday, August 17, 2009

One Fell Into The Cuckoo's Nest

Another day, another crazy. Today in downtown Portland it was like visiting the Twilight Zone. I walk there nearly every day but today the loons were out in force. Before I regale you with tales from scrag heaven, it is important that I issue the following disclaimers:

1) I just moved here from NYC. I know the smell of rotting human flesh. I have sat next to more smelly people, vagrants and general weirdos on the subway than you would believe. I have no problem with that.

2) I love Portland

However, deep breath...I have never come across more bizarre folk desperate to befriend you in one place at any one time in my life. Now, there are a few things that can bother me in life - people eating in elevators, Ann Curry, snakes and over familiarity in strangers. I don't mind a nod and a smile when I pass someone on the street but then move on, keep going, that's it. However, since pushing a stroller, all of a sudden everybody wants to talk to you, touch your baby, stand a bit too close, strike up conversation. Don't. Please. Don't.

It's always nice when an elderly lady sits opposite, smiles at your baby and then smiles at you - she may ask your child's age - but we quickly end the conversation with another smile and then I look down at Olivia and say something like "yes" or "you need a nap" just something...anything. What I am not interested in is a freak at Costco coming up to me while i stand in the meat aisle, asking me if this was my daughter and then asking if he could touch her feet. Two words came to mind and they weren't "why not?".  I was flustered and could only manage "Uh, no, they go in her mouth". This 20 something freak then stomped off before turning and scowling at me. Yes, that happened.

Today began with a man asking me if I wanted to take his seat when we were on the streetcar. This would have been nice except we were the only two on the bus, I was already seated, and there were about 25 other free seats. 

Me: No, thanks - I'm fine here. (I turned back to Olive.) 
Him: Are you sure? I don't want to be taking over the place. 

He starts to look into my stroller and then i can feel him staring into me, willing me to look over. I start singing to Olive and move away.  The streetcar fills up quickly - two travelers that stink to high heaven get on laden with baggage, they have tattoos, multiple piercings and are dressed in army surplus gear - I smile at them and then Olivia smiles at them. They ignore her and push past her stroller using the top of it as a walking stick. I immediately hate them. A rage burned in me because they did not smile at my happy daughter - I'm officially insane! I didn't plan to feel that way but it burned up inside me and if i had Matilda's superpowers then their piercings would have become terribly infected on the spot. Is it normal to feel this way? 

Then two young girls wearing short shorts and Ugg boots push into me. I apologize to them because I feel bad for my earlier thoughts and I have a bulky stroller that may have been in their way. They turn and give me a filthy look before dissolving into giggles. It's funny I didn't have ill thoughts towards them - i just envied their long, cellulite free, tanned legs and thought about what I must look like to them. 

I get off the streetcar early, a smell of wet laundry was starting to drift my way.  As I exit I am nearly run over by a man who is marching full throttle down the sidewalk. He looks over at me and yells in my face "Oregon sucks". 

I stop and wait to cross the road - I am behind a woman wearing pyjamas and black, fluffy slippers. She turns to see me and peers into Olivia's stroller (if she reaches in there, I will ram her). She smiles up at me and has so much yellow plaque on her teeth that i just want to get a knife and scrape it off. I return her smile and hurtle past. 

At the next crossing I stand next to a woman in business attire - I could actually feel myself relax...It's a weekday in a city there should be more of these sort to safeguard me. The woman in the suit turned to look down at Olive - as she looked up at me I realized it was a man, dressed as woman in a business suit. 

And so the day continued...the Rite Aid was full of strange people who would walk pigeon footed and constantly look as though they had lost something. Maybe they had. One customer told me that they sold Ensure and asked if i wanted to buy any. 

When I went to the bank I had the following exchange with the teller:
Him: Hi, how are you? (lyrical, slightly effeminate voice)
Me: Fine thanks. How are you?
Him: Feeling better now, thank you. I wasn't feeling so good earlier. I think I was hungry. I'm not sure. I ate something and I feel a little better, but it was pretty bad for a while. It was coming out of both ends.

His colleague then looked into my stroller and saw a baby dressed in pink, sucking on a pink pacifier with a pink and white blanket covering her feet:
Him: How old is your son?

I felt like a snob. I was wheeling her quickly past smokers, refused to smile back at unsavory looking folk. Good lord, i just used the word unsavory. Today marked another example of a departure from who i was. I used to pride myself on not judging people, smiling at everyone. Seriously, I used to temp as a receptionist and I was like a puppy - everytime anyone walked past me I would raise my head and beam. I would have whiplash by the end of the day. Now, i was like one of those sourpuss people that look like they've been stung by a bee. It's just that when I'm out with Olivia in busy surroundings i feel a bit like I'm wearing a black dress and I'm being asked to sit on a couch where there is dog hair. I'm not quite comfortable. I still worry that someone might reach in and grab her or knock me out of the way and run off with her in the stroller. I have fantasies about this sort of thing and see me beating people down and being stabbed and shot countless times just so Olivia is safe. I have turned into a mother lion. I would rather have my limbs ripped off one by one than see my daughter hurt or in pain. Before you wonder...Yes, I am still taking my meds. 

However, here's me going on about other people, I am not one to talk. I am quite sure that there were women steering their strollers away from me. I caught sight of myself today and would like to offer the following advice...always bend your elbows slightly and straighten your back when pushing your stroller. A bent back and straight arms makes you look decidedly common - an American might even say white trash...I looked like a was one of those folks pushing a cart full of cans.  My hair was pulled back with a tuft popping up like Mr. Majeeka from where Olivia had grabbed it earlier. I had sweat patches and my pants had stains on them. I had no makeup on and knew that with the sun shining on my face - my fair hair on my upper lip was screaming to be waxed. No wonder these loonies were talking to me...

As I waited for the streetcar on my way home a very sweet looking, elderly, Asian lady came and sat on the bench next to me...a little too close but I smiled and budged up to the very end. She had grandchildren she told me and in her broken English she also informed me that she goes to the gym every afternoon when the stock markets close. Good for you, i said. She asked what building I lived in. I asked her where she lived. All was very pleasant, normal, civil. Then, as we saw the streetcar approach, she reached into the stroller and stroked my daughter's hand before touching her teething toy and her cheek. Before I could rip off her Titleist visor and throw it in dog poop, she told me, it's OK, i wash my hands. Oh fine, I wanted to say, why don't you just stick your finger in her mouth and feel her tooth coming through?

I'm missing New York today - at least the crazies there tend to have a protocol. It's like a code of ethics. If you walked quickly enough and avoided eye contact you were left alone. If you said that you didn't have money they wished you a good day. Today a guy came up to me and actually bothered to make up an excuse that he needed change for his car. He didn't have shoes but apparently was short a quarter for the pay and display. I obliged hoping that he had an imaginary car, at least. 

This is not some Cosby show episode with a heart warming moral about not judging a book by it's cover. I mean it could be...if you like.  I'm just sharing my day. That all really happened. Today. 

As a final treat I would like to share that I saw two penises today and neither belonged to my husband.


  1. first and most importantly, whose penisis. this is dreadfully important. and if you say josh and gavin i'll feel terribly led on and teased.

    second. you've just described a frightfully uneventful day in portland. i'm sorry, but it's true.

    you, however, have done your part to spruce it up. how's THAT for philanthropy?

  2. Hilarious! God, don't you miss NYC?!

  3. Dear, Paula, you took it all in stride and with that pert British-New Yorker attitude, too. Love it! An our dear little Olive, she took it all in too.

  4. Becky - Two men sunbathing on the green in the shortest shorts (sans ugg boots) with said bits hanging out. Like runner shorts but shorter and more flappy...the shorts.

  5. Just move to Redmond says I.

  6. Love it. Apparently I don't walk around Portland near enough. Now I know where to go if I'm in need of free entertainment. :)

  7. Welcome to the pride of young lioness's! It gets a little better, when they leave home! But, not much...We need to protect our young, and we do the strangest of things to achieve this. Another great piece! Your feelings are like any new mum.xx

  8. Oh my good gracious Paul! I cannot stop laughing!! Isn't Portland... interesting?? As a good friend once told me, there's lots of "culture" there. At least stick it out another 12 days so we can see you when we come back! :) xoxo


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