It isn’t a long walk up Foster from my place to Foster Gardens but it is off putting. Walking along that stretch of road forces me to pay attention to thet environment as opposed to driving along it, where I’m paying attention to hazards. It’s a desolate space; at night it harkens back to what the area must’ve been like before City Hall started paying attention to the cries of the Lents and Foster neighborhoods, asking for improvements.
The junk shop, the run down corner store, auto repair, darkness and utter lack of people all combine to create an ambiance that makes me wonder if I am heading the right way. Within four blocks I have begun to doubt my sense of direction, seeing for the first time an auto detailing place that I never saw before and I could swear sprung out of the ground like something out of a neon-infested Stephen King novel. I half expect to see a grinning man inside the empty store, ready to make a deal.
And there it is. Foster Gardens, all is as well in my brain as it can be.
It’s hot when I walk in there, despite two doors being open and I sit down at the first unoccupied place I can, noting on the tap handles the usual suspects (Coors Lite, Bud, you know) and…Boneyard IPA?
No place in Portland is immune to our demands for good beer. Gimme that. The bartender pulls a glass from the fridge that still has ice chips on it and pours it for me. He’s also not above taking the whole $5 as tip for a $3.50 beer. This is what I expect.
I sit near a very drunk man who has longish black hair with white strands in it and a trucker’s hat on. I don’t know how drunk he is until he starts talking to no one about his tattoo.
That feeling that I get when I am dealing with someone who is most likely mentally ill starts to wrap around my heart: I must tread carefully, else find myself in a box I cannot get out of.
He eventually talks to me, rambling about a tattoo of a dragon on his forearm that he is unhappy with, as the spiked tail doesn’t wrap around his wrist and end at his knuckles.
“Do you get what I mean?” he says. And I repeat back to him: “Yes; you’re upset that the tattoo didn’t go down your hand like you wanted it to,” and he nods and repeats my repeat.
Some friends of his step in, distracting him. He starts talking about his other tattoos, including one “on his fuckin’ armpit” which he assures everyone hurt a lot. As he strips his shirt off to show everyone the tattoo, the bartender warns him; “I’m not dragging you home again tonight.” It’s a friendly warning; they know each other here.
An older woman with glasses, a tweed jacket, and a schoolmarm look smiles at me over her Miller tallboy from kitty-corner of the bar. Then she winks. I can feel my whole world tilt: why is she even paying attention to me?
Yet…it’s human and lively. Yes, I’m probably the youngest person in the joint and no, I don’t fit in here. I recall a moment from a Bill Hicks bit: “Anyone can be homeless, man: All it takes is the right bar, the right girl and the right friends, and they’ll roll up that dumpster for you to sleep in.”
I wonder about the Gardens and who they offer shelter to. Where those people will go when that shelter isn’t there anymore, or what will become of this place when those who needed this shelter die off; a day that isn’t long in coming, from the looks of things.
I could easily be a part of this. It wouldn’t take much: I like beer, I often like people. Three terrible days and I could find myself here, hoping that the gal who winked at me might consider me as warmth for the night. They don’t seem miserable here, right? Nobody’s been an asshole to me. I got my beer. It isn’t desperate in the Gardens, just low class and sad, if you get what I mean. It isn’t dressed up and it never will be. I could belong and inhabit the sadness of this space inside my own, sharing a kind of misery that is safer than the crushing disappointment of happiness denied.
I finish up and go home: I probably won’t be back. I take the residential path: the road of the Gardens is not mine. The stars are out tonight and I haven’t seen them like this in a long, long time.