Friday, December 28, 2007

Slumfights '07

prescott

Originally published in The Oregonian on December 27, 2007. Photo and text by Jason Simms.

Things started to turn ugly on Prescott Drive about seven or eight years ago. Residents along the street in the otherwise well-tended Argay neighborhood in outer Northeast started seeing graffiti, drug deals and prostitution.

Valerie Curry, Argay Neighborhood Association president, says that until recently, she needed only two words to describe the street from 125th to 135th: “Trash everywhere.”

But now the area, characterized by its large lots, is swinging back, thanks to Curry’s determination and hard work. She forged an unlikely partnership between homeowners and the owners, managers and tenants of a row of apartment complexes.

Prescott Drive — parallel to Sandy Boulevard, which lies one block north — became the front lines. Homes and condos with clipped grass and trimmed hedges — much like the other homes in Argay — lie on the south side of Prescott. On the north side are five apartment complexes with a combined 648 units and about one-third of the neighborhood’s roughly 6,000 residents.

Calla Marshall, a 72-year-old retired schoolteacher, has lived in her house near Prescott Drive for 34 years and says the street was desirable for many years after the apartments were built in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

“It was just the nicest, quietest neighborhood, ” she says.

Then graffiti and garbage began to appear, Marshall says. She and other residents blamed what they saw as mismanagement at some of the apartment complexes. Over time, Marshall says, “it became a slum.”

Marshall says she would collect a bagful of garbage — food, diapers, condoms — every day, just in the area around her house.

Others saw worse. Curry describes drug deals. “They see me,” she says, “but they are so brazen that they just go right ahead and do it.”

Diana Brown, a stay-at-home mom with a 10-year-old son, has watched drug dealers wave passing motorists into an alley as though they were running a drive-through. A garage sale last summer also sold prostitutes, she says.

She and her husband, Jim, have lived near Prescott Drive for 12 years but didn’t notice how bad it had become until they bought a Pomeranian/Yorkie last year and began to take him on walks. Diana Brown now walks her son to and from Parkrose Elementary, which she says is the main reason they stay in the neighborhood.

Curry bought a home in Argay after 27 years overseas in the Foreign Service. Within a few months, she became president of the neighborhood association, then on the verge of disbanding. Prescott Drive, she says, was the neighborhood’s most pressing problem.

She sought to keep the area clean, hoping seedy elements would find it less inviting. Talks with apartment complex owners and managers were slow-going. She says one, who has since left, asked: “What do you expect for this kind of neighborhood?”

Tenants were often less than friendly, as well. She asked a man to stop cleaning his car onto the street, she says, and he responded, “The police won’t do anything to me, and you can’t.”

So Curry, Marshall and another neighbor began photographing anything — and anyone — they thought police should know about. They sought to foster cooperation, creating a neighborhood drawing contest and giving cupcakes to children in the apartments.

Over time, Curry convinced property owners that she wanted to work with them to make the neighborhood better, ultimately improving the quality of their tenants. “It was a gradual awakening,” she says.

It took the threat of a lawsuit over declining property values to get a couple of complexes to evict problem tenants and hire more landscapers, but the owners of the Melrose Apartments at 133rd and Prescott were among those who came around on their own.

Owner Livia Jurju brought in Alex Juarez, a 27-year-old single father from Florida, as manager in August. The last guy, Juarez says, “was getting paid, but he wasn’t doing his job.”

Now Curry and Marshall rave about Juarez, who collects garbage around the property each morning. “I care about this place as though it was my place,” he says.

The prostitutes and drug dealers haven’t packed up yet, but Curry is hopeful. Cmdr. Mike Crebs of the Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct says he’s not surprised the criminals haven’t left, but he believes they will.

“It takes a sustained effort,” he says “to get good citizens out and about and drive out the bad element.”

Original blog post linking to the story before the OregonLive link decayed:

If you live in Portland, your rent or property value has undoubtedly been steadily going up since at least 2003. But one street in town, Northeast Prescott Drive between 125th and 135th Avenues, was actually getting worse.

Can you believe it? As plastic replaces brick throughout the city and prices rise on everything from rent to Tecate, there was a formerly affluent area turning into a slum. Now, as much as I love shitty neighborhoods and hope and pray that a little piece of Portland can stay shitty as long as I live here, Prescott ain’t the place for it.

First of all, the people who own homes there have been there for 30+ years in a lot of cases and there’s nothing worse than giving old people unnecessary stress by keeping them awake and/or trashing their area.

Second, this is not the cool, punk-show, free-love, I-can-smoke-weed-and-drink-in-public kind of shitty neighborhood. It’s the prostitute and tweaker kind of shitty neighborhood. And actually it’s not the whole neighborhood—just the one street.

Anyway, I wrote a story about all this and it was in last Thursday’s O.

Photo: By Argay Neighborhood Association President Valerie Curry. These row houses are located at NE 131st and Prescott and are one of the main centers of crime and mess in the neighborhood. While Valerie was giving me a tour of the area in her car, we were approached by a guy who pretty much looked like a zombie walking out of one of these
things.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Man, I Needed That: SexVid

Out of the light socket hung one clear, crooked tooth. The rest of the bulb had disappeared. It took me a moment to realize why the lights wouldn’t turn on after the Sex Vid show.

I had wanted to take a picture with my phone of a series of big, fat hearts in the colors of the rainbow that hung on the basement wall. I had some crazy metaphor in mind about how SexVid was sort of like those hearts. Unlike most hardcore bands, which paint in grays and sculpt in rubble, Sex Vid was somehow colorful, their music a little warm and silly while still thick, sweaty, and epic.

But I realized that the light bulb said it all. Just a little bit of destruction up there on the ceiling. I took a high heel to the foot during the set and it left a bruise but it sort of like a basement show should. Just a little bit of pain down there on the floor.

SexVid doesn’t exist on the Internet, so spare your browser history the shame and don’t even try it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Nostalgia Fuck: Avenged Sevenfold

121307_23451
I am a member of a very small group of people who consider Sounding the Seventh Trumpet by Avenged Sevenfold one of their favorite albums of all time.

Now, it’s not so unusual to have an Avenged Sevenfold album in your top 5 or 10 list. I’m sure plenty of young teens have two, the two albums they’ve released since they became one of the biggest bands in the world. I don’t know what they’re called and I don’t care because I listened to them online and I didn’t like them and am too busy listening to Sounding the Seventh Trumpet and then shredding inferiorly.

What makes Sounding so good? The backbone of the album is the drumming. Insanely, inhumanly busy. The meat of the record is the brilliant combination of butt rock and hardcore. It’s the album that single-handedly got me interested in metal.

I saw A7x at Reed College in 2002 on the Sounding tour and talked to their guitarist, Synyster Gates who told me he was jazz-trained and that’s how he’s so good which got me into playing jazz guitar.

Then I noticed a hole in A7x’s tour schedule in the summer of 2003 and booked them in Santa Fe with my short-lived A7x-inspired band Invisible Music opening. The show sold out to 125 people.

The next time I saw them was at the Roseland in 2005. I’d heard their new album, which had them at number 1 on TRL, and thought it sucked. The drumming was perfectly normal. The sound was sort of pop-punky in a way. I felt a little betrayed. But I couldn’t stay away.

When I got to the show, I finally got it. It started in pure blackness then suddenly risers lit up underneath the two guitar players locked in a harmony. An enormous backdrop changed behind them, at one point becoming a huge American flag.

It was awful but it was glorious. It was the cheesiest, most over the top show I’d ever seen. It was more GNR than GNR. It wasn’t Sounding, it wasn’t changing my life, but I got it.

When I saw A7x was coming back, I contacted their publicist because I wanted to do a story where I’d take them out to strip clubs after the show. Everyone knows this town has strip clubs in spades and A7x are really into strippers. The response from the publicist? “We must pass on this interview idea.”

Lame. But the show was not lame (and she guest listed me anyway, thanks!). The lights and backdrop were toned down and A7x still pulled it off. Synyster pointed out into the audience and nodded as he soloed. I winked back from the balcony. I get it.

But most of the people there weren’t laughing. They were adoring (see tattoo photo above). Just like last time, there wasn’t a single song off of Sounding (sigh) but there were 2 off of Waking the Fallen, the transition album into becoming the new GNR, which is pretty OK. I bootlegged “I Won’t See You Tonight Part 1” because I was surprised to hear it live. It’s a great song because it’s pretty much just the heavy ending of a power ballad for 8 minutes straight.


Just as my friend Asa and I were leaving A7x launched into “Chapter Four” for their encore, also off of Waking. Asa pushed me through the pit to the fifth row or so. During the guitar solo, I had him throw all 160 pounds of me on top of the poor 16-year-olds beneath.

I never crowd surf. I hate it. It ruins shows. But this show was so ridiculous, so (I must say it, there’s no other word for it, forgive me) retarded that I had no choice. And I as I sat atop the teens—wearing my full jacket, hat and gloves—I looked square at each member of the band and asked with my eyes, “Do you remember me? Do you remember Santa Fe? Do you remember Sounding the Seventh Trumpet?”

Before I got an answer, I was in the arms of a security guard and being hustled through the barricade. I guess I’ll have to wait till the band agrees to go to a strip club with me.
121307_23511

*A note on the title: I’ve decided to code live reviews here on Simmantics according to different types of sex. This is partially inspired Paige Richmond’s description of Planes Mistaken for Stars as “still fucking” after a breakup.

Mustachios

stache

Originally published in The Oregonian on December 13, 2007. Photos and text by Jason Simms.

Had you walked into Vendetta, a bar on North Williams Avenue, one afternoon last week, you might have thought, "That table of men, there's something about them. They remind me of Tom Selleck but also make me want to go home and make sure my kids are OK."

No need to worry. The 25 or so mustachios were all part of Portland's first crack at Mustaches for Kids, a loose organization in 16 North American cities that challenges people to grow mustaches and take pledges for charity when asked about their facial hair. Most cities, Portland included, donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

And, yes, ladies, they're single. "Look at us. We have mustaches. We don't have girlfriends," says 27-year-old Miguel Rivera when asked whether he's involved with any of the women sitting across from him.

The "growers" shaved Nov. 14 and since then have met once a week to compare progress. The third "checkpoint" at Vendetta proved Rivera right. Only one girlfriend and one wife were on hand.

Summer Money must be proud. Her husband, Scott, who works in the financial aid office of the Art Institute of Portland, is the leading fundraiser with more than $500 in pledges so far. He says most of his donations come from the fact that to join the competition, he shaved a full beard he'd had for years.

Is Summer happy to have had a smooth-faced husband for the first time? No. "I miss the beard," she says.

But just because Scott has made the most money doesn't mean his 'stache is the most impressive. Tim Brown, a 24-year-old travel agent, and Jeff McCaskey, a 27-year-old industrial designer, are neck and neck for the most growth.

McCaskey boasts of the density of his facial hair. "I found a tater tot in there I think was like two days old!" Brown is more down to earth. "I think it helps to have dark hair," he says.

Co-organizer Sarah Compton explains why there are no handlebars or other fancy 'staches in sight. "Corner to corner is regulation."

The growers will compete at the 'Stache Bash next week. There, they will assume a character to display their mustache (ideas include hot cop and the Unibomber). Then their work will be judged on aesthetics and tested for beer-foam retention. Oh, and they'll have to write mustache-themed haikus on the spot. The overall winner will be crowned Portland's Sweetest 'Stache '07.

While McCaskey and Brown are gunning for victory, George Klingerman is having a crisis over his pitiful mustache. "I look like an ugly guy," he says.

Klingerman's mustache is thin and light. He says people frequently try to wipe it off, thinking it's dirt, and pull their children closer as he walks by. He's 29 but is suddenly being carded for the first time in years.

But he keeps coming to the checkpoints to boost his morale. "Shaving in the morning is really hard," he says. "To not just..." he says, making a shaving motion toward his mustache. "But it's for the kids, so I can't give up."

The growers' progress - no matter how glorious or pathetic - is measured by a weekly mugshot that Compton and co-organizer Chrissy Purcell post on the Portland chapter's Web site, m4kpdx.blogspot.com.

Purcell's brother was crowned Seattle's Sweetest 'Stache '06, which led her to investigate how to start a Portland chapter. Compton, a college friend, was shocked to find out Portland didn't have one.

"It seems like a perfect fit," she says. "People already grow mustaches here just because."

The growers agree that Portland is mustache-friendly. Nate Kappen, who recently moved here from Napa, Calif., says Portland has the best mustaches of anywhere he's lived, including Italy.

Mitch Goldman, who founded the first chapter of Mustaches for Kids in Los Angeles eight years ago, was thrilled to have a Portland chapter, especially one led by two women.

"You can imagine how many times I've had to defend against charges of gender exclusivity," he says.

Women just have to get more creative. Compton says Portland's chapter has a few female participants, including one who's growing a "mustache" on her knee out of leg hair.

But the question is, was it all just a ploy to meet men? Compton says no. But how many men with mustaches has she kissed this month? "Zero, actually," she says.

stache2

M4K
M4KPDX

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Greg Graffin Interview

greg

I have a short news piece in the new issue of Harp on Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin and how his doctoral dissertation sold exceptionally well.

I called Greg at his home in Ithaca last July, and the 20-minute interview is transcribed below. This story was intended to run with the release of New Maps of Hell last summer but wound up getting held until now.

I think I managed to play it off cool on the phone with Greg, which is amazing since I was beyond psyched to interview him. Bad Religion has been my favorite band since I was a teenager. I turn to their music—and specifically Greg’s lyrics—any time I need to feel balance and hope.

It’s always nice when you interview your hero and he or she turns out to be as nice and intelligent as you always imagined, and that was definitely the case with Greg. I especially liked the way he answered the question near the end about why The Grey Race may not be as strong an album as Suffer.

Eds 12/10: Since Harp went out of business and is no longer available online, here is the text of the article, followed by the full interview.

Bad Religion:
Pure Mind Power
By Jason Simms

Even though he wrote it “as plainly as possible while still having academic credibility,” Greg Graffin didn’t think his dissertation, Monism, Atheism, and The Naturalist Worldview: Perspectives From Evolutionary Biology, would sell the initial 500 copies he paid to have printed. Most professors retain stacks of their dissertations. But most professors aren’t the lead singer of arguably the most intelligent and sage punk band of all time, Bad Religion. Without a publisher, the book has sold 10,000 copies—which means a lot of teens are reading Graffin’s interviews with evolutionary biologists on their own religious beliefs.

“I didn’t expect it would sell as a piece of merchandise,” says Graffin, who sold the books from his academic website (Polypterus.org) instead of BadReligion.com. “The nature of sharing information is so partitioned,” Graffin says. “You lose credibility when use one category to sell the other.”

But there’s a single source to Graffin’s multiple outlets: “My most creative writing, I think, comes when I’m very active in the science,” says Graffin. “It sort of puts me in a zone that is pure mind power and not so much scrutiny.”


Your dissertation sold a bunch more copies than you expected, right?
Yeah, that’s true.

What did you think would happen when you put it up for sale on badreligion.com?
My goal was to write a dissertation that could be enjoyed by the general public. So anybody who really is interested in evolution and religion, I thought, would benefit from reading at least the introduction and the discussion, and the interviews, because the interviews are really fascinating. I interviewed the most illustrious evolutionists alive and it’s a generation of the 20th Century that is not gonna be with us much longer. In fact, three of the people I interviewed are already dead. So I knew that it was a great collection of opinions and I thought that people would generally be interested in it if they were at all interested in it if they were at all interested in the on-going tension between evolution and religion. So, my goal was to write it as plainly as possible while still having academic credibility to the extent that it would pass muster with my academic committee.

I guess instead of searching for a publisher, I just sort of reverted back to my natural tendencies in the way we started Bad Religion: By publishing it ourselves. I didn’t get an agent involved or anything, I just started printing them. And I sort of put the word out—even though, you’re right, it was on badreligion.com, I have also have an academic webpage, and that’s where it was really sold through. It wasn’t sold through our band webpage. I tried to keep it separate because I don’t feel like using my platform in Bad Religion to sell my dissertation, but I don’t mind referring people who might be interested. You know, Bad Religion fans might be interested so I referred them to my academic web page.

I just remember something on badreligion.com about how you were surprised that the first 500 that you made disappeared really quickly.
I signed the first 500 copies, not really thinking that Bad Religion fans would be interested in it, just because I didn’t think there was any way that those 500 copies could sell. I was worried because it cost a decent amount of money to print those and I really was worried we wouldn’t sell them and I’d be sitting on a bunch of books. So I just decided to sign them to see if it would add any value. And it turned out those sold out in the first week or two and by the end of the whole run, we had sold 10,000 out of my garage basically.

I’m so busy right now that we put it on hold. It’s currently unavailable. I am toying with…letting a major publisher take it over and just get it out of my hands entirely.

Are publishers approaching you about it?
Well, the word isn’t really out yet. Maybe if they read your article.

See the point is that I learned from all this, maybe 1000 of those 10,000 were sold to academics. The other 9,000 were just sold like pieces of merchandise that people who like Bad Religion had to have in their collection.

Have you gotten feedback? Do you think people are reading the whole book?
Well like most things in Bad Religion, the audience likes the music, and the music is infused with ideas and so, I think it does provoke them to think, and likewise, even if they don’t grasp the depth or the implications that are written in it, at least I think it provokes them in a way. It makes a bit of a difference.

Are there two Greg Graffins? Does Greg Graffin the poet and the performer feed into the professor?
Well first of all let me say there’s only one Greg Graffin. But in the days of Classical Greece, I think I would have been an orator, who is able to share ideas in a forum, where people would come and listen and it would all be very unified. But in today’s world, we don’t have that. The nature of sharing information is so partitioned, that you can’t really transcend the different categorizations very easily and so I have to walk very carefully so that it doesn’t look like I’m using one category to sell the other one, because I think you lose credibility when you do that. So it’s just the nature of modern media that I have to be kind of sczitzophrenic. It’s hard to be a well-rounded person in the world today because the media generally classifies you as one thing or another. In fact, most people are perfectly happy to define themselves as one thing or another. That’s never sat comfortably with me.

So it’s the same creative well that helps you write your dissertation that helps you write your lyrics?
Very much so, yeah. It’s a motivation just to share knowledge and acquire knowledge and use that knowledge for some sort of an interesting perspective on the world.

I was trying to look at the bio that comes in the book and when Bad Religion albums were coming out, and it seemed to me that my favorite albums came out while you were working. Process of Belief is probably my favorite and it came out while you were in the midst of working on this and I was wondering if you feel like it helps your creativity at all to be in school.
It does sort of help me. My most creative writing, I think, comes when I’m very active in the science. You can also gauge it this year because New Maps of Hell is coming out and it was recorded when I was very busy acting as a professor at UCLA. So now my game is elevated up to an even higher level, I’m beyond the graduate student level, I actually can’t wing it anymore when I’m in front of a group of students. There’s a newfound intensity this year in my academic work, and it remains to be seen the reviews of the new album, but most people say it’s a pretty intense album.

So you feel like the pressures of being a professor sort of fed into the overall energy level?
No, I think it takes my mind away from some of the practical details of writing. It sort of puts me in a zone that is pure mind power and not so much scrutiny. A very synthetic kind of activity, where I’m synthesizing information at a much higher rate and I think that helps me write lyrics.

There are a lot more 60-year-old college professors than there are bands on the Warped Tour. Are you going to faze out Bad Religion at some point and just do academics?
It’s hard to say. Obviously my goal is to try and age gracefully and I’m sure Mick Jagger thinks he’s doing the same thing. He’s 65 now or something and still performing, but hopefully when I’m 65 I’ll have a few books under my belt that are being actively discussed in academic circles and that’ll give me a place to exercise my mind. I don’t know if I want to be onstage as much as I am today.

Will your future books also be accessible to non-academic audiences?
That’s my goal, yeah. I feel you can do a lot more good for the world if you try and write for the general educated public.

Is that also why you continue to be in a punk band instead of, I don’t know, publishing poetery?
I guess so, yeah. I definitely see this style of music we’ve been playing…I’ve always believed it was music for the people, not an elitist kind of endeavor. So that’s definitely part of my core belief system.

I wanted to ask you about the song “No Direction” which you wrote, I don’t know, 15 years ago, but you’re still playing to that adolescent crowd and I was wondering if you still have fans coming to you for direction and if that’s something you still experience and if it’s changed.
Not per se. They don’t ask me what to do. They’re not my peers anymore, so. I think that song was more about, “Don’t ask me to be your leader because you have to make sense of this on your own.” And to a large extent I still feel that way. But I do symbolize something to them—people who are much younger—just like a professor symbolizes something to his or her youthful set of students. I think they somehow show that you never stop learning and you never stop formulating a sense of purpose as you go through life and to me that formulation is an intellectual pursuit. And a true intellectual pursuit is not concerned with giving people direction, but just trying to procure some meaning from a very brief time on the planet. Maybe I offer them some hope that you can age gracefully as a punker.

The last thing I wanted to ask you about is that Bad Religion seems to walk this line between being street credible band and being a pop punk band on the radio and Warped Tour. How do you do that?
I’m not sure. I mean, obviously we’re not the kind of commercial band, like the Chili Peppers who get played on the radio all the time and are considered very mainstream. I think we just have always focused on the content of the songs and the quality of the writing and that’s always been more important to us than the image or the fashion. Because of that we’ve been able to not look too silly as we got older. Because a lot of people you wonder, “Why does he still have a Mohawk?” or “Why is he wearing a leather jacket?” “He hasn’t changed much since he was 16.” I don’t think that offers people much substance. So luckily songwriting is a difficult chore, and if you take it seriously you can only improve with each effort, so that’s what we try to do and maybe there will come a time when we don’t have anything left to write about or we don’t have the energy. But until that happens I think we can still improve in our songs.

Do you think that you’ve always improved? To me Suffer [which came out in 1989] is a better album than The Grey Race [which came out in 1996].
Well Suffer as a whole is a better album, but that’s because [guitarist] Brett [Gurewitz] left the band. We lost half of our writing staff for about four albums. And yet those four albums still have, at least from my own perspective, real achievements in writing. If the whole album itself wasn’t as strong, the high points were definitely higher than my output on the previous album. So I really have to believe that the writing is better each time. Otherwise we’re just taking people for a ride. I can’t sleep well with that idea.

I guess to get back to my original question, you think the fact that you aged well is what makes it okay for a crust punk or an anarchist who listens to Discharge to also like Bad Religion, whereas it’s not okay for them to like NOFX.
Well, I can’t comment on those people. I don’t really understand it. I don’t care…if someone’s committed to something, we can’t really judge ‘em for their fashion. But if they’re just committed to the fashion, I’ve gotta say there’s more to life.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Just Throwing This Out There: Bitch Black

corpsepaint

So you might have noticed that this feature in which I toss out an idea for a band name didn’t really end up being so weekly. That’s because I spoke too soon. As soon as I said I could come up with a band idea every week all my old ideas fled and new ones stopped coming. That’s how these things go.

So this column will appear WHENEVER THE FUCK I WANT IT TO from now on. My editors aren’t happy about it, but that’s the way it’s gonna be. Oh wait I don’t have any editors here. Freedom! Self reliance!

My latest idea comes from the bitchin’ new Swallows EP, which I really like. It mostly sounds like my favorite song from their last record. On one of the songs Em sings, “…pitch black…” but it kinda sounds like she says, “bitch black.” So thought, hey, why not form an all black feminist black metal band called Bitch Black. You could be the band to bring DarkBlack and the New Bloods together on the same bill for the first time!

In other news, black metal is officially the most egalitarian form of music. Corpse paint knows no gender or color and a black metal vocalist’s race and gender can’t be identified from the sound of his or her growl.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Still Cruisin'

culturecruise3
Gosh I’m such a slacker. It’s been almost a month with no love for Simmantics. What the hell was I doing?

Actually, I’ve been ridiculously busy and that’s why you haven’t heard from me, loyal horde. But such is the way with the freelance writing gig. I am busy now, but none of my work reaches the public till later. Here are things I have in store for you in the next month (in no particular order):

Gays! Hip, young gays who opened the best club ever for only 5 weeks in Seattle!
• A neighborhood united across economic lines and struggling with prostitution!
George Tabb and the greatest domestic atrocity of our generation!
• My current and childhood hero, Greg Graffin!
Mustaches! Children! A recipe for success!
• The worst possible place to spend Christmas!
• The rest of this here Culture Cruise. I am behind one of the cameras and partially behind the concept!



!!!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Vegan Challenge '07

vegankid

Originally published in The Oregonian on November 8, 2007. Photos and text by Jason Simms.

It's not every day you get to taste tempeh mashed yams, shop for faux leather or mingle in a crowd that includes a vegan body builder. But you could do that and more at last weekend's Vegan Holiday Festival.

The idea? To change minds - and menus.

For many, the holidays conjure up images of good company, good cheer and a nice ham or turkey on the table. Others have a decidedly darker take.

"It's a time of year when there's a lot of animal slaughter," says Emily Pepe, media coordinator for the second annual event, who has the glow of a recent convert. She went vegan "practically overnight" a year ago, she said, and is "evangelical about it."

The event - with a maze of vegan dog food, handbags made of recycled plastic bags, and even vegan bingo for the kids - transformed Benson High School into a mini vegan Portland. Population: about 1,000 through the day.

In one example of reduced veggie-ography, the Blue Moose Cafe, which offers vegetarian soups at Northeast 50th and Fremont, found itself next to the Pearl District's vegan Blossoming Lotus, which was serving Thanksgiving fare.

In the chefs' demo room, Julie Hasson, author of "Best Chocolate Recipes," dished up pumpkin desserts. The room also featured the tempeh mashed yams - make that fall cranberry baked tempeh mashed yams with sage gravy braised greens by chef Piper Dixon of St. Johns' Proper Eats.

Sure, tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. But in Dixon's hands, it was tasty. Divine even.

After enjoying the animal-free fare, it was time to hear vegan triathlete Brendan Brazier, the keynote speaker, talk about how a vegan diet can give you more energy. Seeing vegan body builder Robert Cheeke sprint through the festival shouting announcements left little doubt.

And, strangely, for a festival inspired by animal slaughter, it had a, well, festive atmosphere.

"I don't think most of these people think about being vegetarian that often," said Barry Gillette, who attended with his wife, Indrani, and their 3-year-old daughter. Indrani Gillette, born in India and raised as a vegetarian, found the celebration "encouraging."

Peter Spendelow, president of Northwest VEG, said with a laugh that people eat a wider variety of foods after going vegan because they have to get more creative. "Being vegetarian is not about deprivation."

The vegetarians in the crowd said they didn't feel slighted by the animal-free majority. But did any meat-eaters venture inside?

No one fessed up when Cheeke, at a reporter's request, asked over the microphone. A man leaned over and said, "Good luck trying to find someone willing to chew on a dead cow butt around here!"

But later, Jessica Naylor, 26, turned up. The meat-loving chef at Sun River Resort came to network and pick up tips on vegan cooking in part because her wife is a vegan.

"I'm wearing leather shoes, but I'm here supporting this lifestyle and trying to learn about it, and they're very supportive of that," she said. Plus, the prevailing attitude was she'll convert, sooner or later.

She says she doesn't plan to. But, she said: "How mean could they be? They're here because they care about animals."



This is the original blog post linking to the story before the OregonLive url expired.

Yesterday’s Oregonian featured a piece I wrote on the Vegan Holiday Festival last weekend.

I enjoyed this assignment, not only because I was able to pick up some nutrition tips and a new fake-leather belt, but because it was a real challenge. I had to take something that, in all honesty, is pretty boring to read about and make it interesting.

I did an okay job. Michelle Brence, my editor, helped me out with a great edit (that left in my coinage of veggie-ography!). But I realized I should have done something a lot crazier. I should have found one interesting person and followed him or her through the festival. Or come up with some other angle than the straightforward approach I went with.

I’ll try to do better next time.

Photo: An adorable child playing bingo with the word vegan. This photo appeared in the O, but the kid was cut because I didn’t get an ID for him. It was only third or fourth outing as a paid photog, so I didn’t really know how things work.

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A freaky dude I bought a fake-leather belt from. I got black. I almost got white.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Return to Jumptown

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Okay. Hallowwen is over. You had your fun with Big Black Cloud or Fist of Dishonor and that girl dressed as a hesher zombie, but now it’s time to get serious.

Dusty York, a local 29-year-old saxophonist, wants you to take his music and the music on his label, Diatic, seriously. And so do I. Check out this piece from last month’s Portland Monthly that takes a quick look at Portland's jazz scene and is tied to an art gallery show this Saturday.

This was a tough piece to write because it wasn't for a music magazine or music section. Occasionally one of my friends will tell me they don't know the difference between pitch and volume or something and it reminds me that musical knowledge I take for granted may not be there when dealing with a general readership. For a more critical look at York's latest album, check out this piece I wrote for WW last spring.

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The show is at Design Counsel which is 1020 NW 18th and it’s $10. I also wrote this piece about Dusty York for WW last spring.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More Hermans

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The current issue of Harp includes another review I wrote of the Hermans’ book. This one gently makes fun of them! Also, the typo “rock Missoula outfit” as opposed to “Missoula rock outfit” somehow made it to press, but I kinda like it because the Hermans do, in fact, rock Missoula.

Photo: Dave Jones of the Hermans in the Middle of Higgins, the main street in Missoula. By me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Istanbul: Hotel Paranoia

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How I was chosen as the mark for this scam, I have no idea. Granted I was wearing shiny white shoes, but anything but a moment’s glance would reveal that they were golf shoes. Cowboy shirt, sure, but big, black backpack with broken zipper and bicycle reflector? C’mon.

“Do you have a fire?” a short young man with tall greased-back hair asked me while walking down Istikal Caddesi, perhaps the most crowded street in Istanbul.

“I don’t smoke.”

“Where you from?”

“The United States.” Fuck saying you’re from Canada.

“What part?”

“Oregon.”

“Oh yeah? My girlfriend’s from San Francisco.”

“Really? Where are you from? What’s your name?”

“Yorgo. I come from Greece.” Judging from his accent, Yorgo may have learned all of his English from watching Scarface. I learned that his girlfriend opened a coffee shop for students in Athens and is making bank. He and his father are in the hotel business. They are rich.

We approached my hotel.

“Well, this is my place. But I think I’m going to go to bar Madrid later. Do you know that place?”

“Oh…Where are you staying?”

“Right there.” I pointed.

“Right there?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I offer you a beer?”

Europe is crawling with solo travelers longing for someone to drink with and speak English. And heck, I wasn’t doing anything. And it had been a whole day since dancing on a bus to Turkish techno on the way to a wedding reception on the Black Sea and I craved excitement.

“Why not.”

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Yorgo led me down one of the many streets filled with cafes and shops that branch off of Istikal Caddesi. As crowded as the main drag can be, the side streets are often deserted. We didn’t see anyone else as we walked the block and a half to the China Club.

Tony Montana and I walked right into the disco scene where he meets Michelle Pfeiffer. The tables were on multiple levels and there was a light-up dance floor. Two waiters came to take our order. Another came to change the ash tray.

Yorgo had only ashed in the tray once.

There were more waiters than customers in the club. Some of the patrons were strangely old. There was no one on the dance floor.

Yorgo and I made idle chatter as best we could. He was nervous, but that was understandable because it was a little awkward. He kept saying things like, “Istanbul is very good time,” and “You like-a the music? Is good music.”

The beers were taking an absurdly long amount of time considering the staff-to-patron ratio.

“You like this place?”

“Yeah, it seems cool,” I say, “a little empty, but maybe it will get bumping in while.”

“Oh yeah, is great.”

“I bet it’s cool when people are dancing. Maybe we could meet some girls.”

“You got a girlfriend?”

“Nuh-uh.”

Still no beers. A waiter comes over and Yorgo speaks to him.

“Was that Turkish?”

“He knows a little Greek.”

The beers finally arrive. With peanuts. Several more ash trays were swapped out over the 10 or 15 minutes we waited.

Weirded out and not wanting to accidentally drink a $40 beer, I said, “You get these and I’ll get the next round somewhere else.”
Yorgo agreed. A waiter brought over two very hot girls and introduced them to us. I don’t remember their names because I was preoccupied with realizing what was going on. The waiter gestured me out of the round booth so that the girls could sit between Yorgo and I. Neither of them spoke any English so it got even more awkward.

Now, the sensible person probably would have fled immediately when the girls sat down. But that didn’t occur to me at the time. Since the club looked like a movie set, I guess I thought I had to make a smooth exit, as though I were in a movie. So I said, “Let’s dance.”

Yorgo and his girl stayed seated. I made them get up and dance. On the way to the dance floor I said to Yorgo, “What is going on?”

“Nothing. What d’you mean?”

“I don’t want to pay for anything.”

“You won’t have to pay. And maybe later we take these girls to hotel…”

Yorgo is probably the worst dancer I have ever seen. He stood in place and bounced, looking like a cross between a child who has to pee and someone being forced to dance at gunpoint.

“Fuck it,” I thought, and pulled out all my fake Middle-Eastern dance moves which had been a hit at the wedding reception the night before (they blended almost seamlessly with real Middle-Eastern dance moves!). So I knelt and clapped in front of my prostitute and wriggled my chest in front of Yorgo. His prostitute thought it was pretty funny and started shaking around her giant rack.

While dancing I began to think about how long it had taken for those beers to come and about how nervous Yorgo looked and I began to suspect that I had been drugged. So after one song I sat down. Everyone else followed.

“Welp. It’s daytime in the US and I have to make a business call. So I better go.”

“Wait for the bill,” said Yorgo. I whipped out a pen and pad from my backpack and also moved all the cash in my wallet except for 15 lira underneath jackets and camera equipment.

“Give me your number. I’ll call you when I’m done working tonight.” He wrote down his number and I stood up.

“No, wait for the bill.”

“I have to go.”

“No…”

“I have to go.”

I walked toward the door and was headed off at the pass by several waiters. Yorgo came over and we all went into the entry way. One of the waiters brought a bill for 400 lira, about 320 dollars.

“We split it,” Yorgo said.

“No. You said you would pay. I have to go.”

“I said one beer. I didn’t say anything about the girls.”

“You asked for them. You got us into—”

“You asked for them!” he half shouted.

“I didn’t ask for anything. You said you would pay!”

“Look. We split it!”

“No. No way. I don’t even have any money.” I pulled out the 15 lira. “That’s all I have.” I showed him my empty wallet.

“Okay. You pay 20 lira. I’ll pay the rest.”

“20. Fine.” I had the rest in change.

As soon as I was back on the street I realized that Yorgo knew where I was staying. I also realized he was obviously in on the con since he talked to his prostitute a little. He clearly knows Turkish. Who knows if he’s even Greek.

Oh yeah, and there’s still a chance I’m drugged.

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I hauled ass to my hotel and immediately changed clothes and started packing everything. I was dripping with sweat as I gave the clerk the key. It was about midnight.

“You leave?”

“Yes. Thank you.” He was very nice and had lent me his umbrella that morning.

I walked around the block to get a taxi in order to stay off of Istikal and avoid being seen. When I arrived at the nearest taxi line, they all just stared at me.

“Taxi?” I said.

“Where are you going?” one of them asked.

“Sultan Hostel.” It was in a different neighborhood, right by the Ayasofya. I had met a pair of cute Austrians at the bar underneath the hostel my first night in town. All the cabbies gathered around when I started talking, which was really weird since it was obvious I was going to take the first taxi in the line, since that’s how those things work.

As I put my bag in the trunk I recalled a warning in an email of Istanbul tips my pal Justin Maurer had sent me, “There’s a huge mafia scene there, and the mafia and the police are pretty much friends, so beware of both.” Maybe the cabbies were part of the club?

I got in the backseat and whipped out a card for another hotel someone had given me on the street. It was about half a mile from the Sultan. The cab driver had to ask directions to it twice from other cabbies.

He dropped me off and I walked slowly toward the entrance. He wasn’t going anywhere. Luckily there was a courtyard to go into so I walked in there and watched over the fence until he drove away. He waited at the corner for a full minute.

Then I walked back a block to another hotel we had passed on the way. I was greeted by a small, pale clerk who would have been a great clerk in an old movie. I put all my things in the bar, stood out of view from the door and windows and tossed him my passport. He didn’t seem to think it was weird.

When I got up to my room, I figured the $30 it had cost me to get another hotel for the night was worth the story, especially considering I had not been drugged. But the next day, I realized that the incident at the China Club had exacted another price.

I was walking through a park outside the Blue Mosque with my new friend Faruk and his new wife, Anastasya, and her family. I ran off to use a pay phone for a minute and was coming back to the group when a cute Turkish girl asked me what time it was. She was cute, not hot, but I was very attracted to her. Small, jeans, hoodie, no make up, a zit or two, gusto, strange habit of saying people look like they’re from somewhere else. Cute.

My lack of cell phone, watch, sundial, or any means telling time had been driving me nuts the whole time I was in Turkey. I told her I had no idea.

“Where are you from?” her English was good.

“The United States.”

“Really? You look Canadian.”

“How can someone look Canadian?”

“Americans have long hair.”

“Oh I see. Are you from Istanbul?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t meet many natives in this part of town.”

“I like this part of town, don’t you?”

“Sure.”

“We walk?” she said, right as Faruk and company approached. She told Faruk in Turkish that she thought he looked Swiss.

I could easily have had this girl and I wanted her. We were about to get dinner. I could have asked her to come along. Normally I would have. I give my friends lectures about how to turn moments like this into great success.

But I didn’t do anything. I shut down the flirting, she got the hint and split. As we walked away, I felt emptiness. I was unable to trust her.

And I am a master of trust! I had convinced my boss to send me to Turkey to make a video about Faruk’s wedding because he and his wife met on our website (englishbaby.com). The only thing that had surprised Faruk’s family more than my killer dance moves was the fact that I had trusted this person I didn’t know and had come all the way to Turkey based on two emails. “What would you have done if he had been lying?” they asked.

“That would have been bad,” I told them, “but not the end of the world.”

No. What would have been much worse than that is if I had never tried to come to Turkey because I had found myself unable to take a risk and trust someone. Or worse yet, if Anastasya and Faruk had never met in person because they were afraid to trust one another.

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Photos: Faruk and Anastasya sipping lemonade, Faruk’s favorite, in Ortakoy. By me. Karakoy, a district of Istanbul near Istikal. By me. Self portrait in hotel room. Faruk, Anastasya and I on the subway. By a random guy on the subway I trusted with the camera.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Junkface: The Long Road Home

Here it is at last! The long-await conclusion of the Junkface audio tour diary. My own nomadic lifestyle has delayed it greatly and for this I apologize (I write this is in view of the Marmara Sea in Turkey). But enough fooling around. Let's let Randy take us home.

Day 14: September 16, 2007
Junkface reconnects with some old friends at their second New York show.


Day 15: September 17, 2007
DC was the worst show of the tour.


But it was saved by two crazy old dudes.


Day 16: September 18, 2007
Bloomington, Indiana, finds the band at a movie store that's trying to take the local house show scene into a legit venue.


Day 17: September 19, 2007
A slice of Rad America in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


Randy dreams of buying building in Milwaukee, but is detered by snow.


Day 18: September 20, 2007
Tour monotony sets in for Randy at a bizarre daytime show in Lincoln, Nebraska.


Day 19: September 21, 2007
Junkface discovers another cool show space in Denver, Colorado. This time in the basement of a church.


Day 20: September 22, 2007
The best was saved for second-to-last at this big, amazing show in, of all places, Grand Junction, Colorado. This entry also contains the only time Kyle was recognized from his former days with the Hippos.


Day 21: September 23, 2007
A harrowing drive finds the dudes jumping right onto stage among old friends in Pendleton, Oregon.


A dejected touring musician recently told me that he doesn't think anyone cares about touring bands anymore. Randy reassured me that that's not the case. As a matter of fact, he can't wait to get on the road again. He just says that the times have changed a bit and that it doesn't work to just get booked at a venue anymore. You have to make sure the bands you're playing with are going to help bring some people who want to see you and it helps if you book your tour through people you know.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Hermans

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The October issue of Seattle Sound has this review of the book put together by the Hermans. I met up with Dave Jones, the band’s frontman, when my band visited his home town of Missoula to play a couple of gigs.

The Hermans are opening for the Revisions record release show tonight at Slabtown in Portland. I wish I were in the state to see it, so go in my stead!

Photo by me. Summer is ‘tubing season in Zoo Town. Unfortunately, when I was there in August, Western Montana was on fire and it was too smoky to drift down the river, so Dave and I had a photo shoot in a surplus store.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Disasterholic

Originally published in The Oregonian on October 11, 2007. By Jason Simms.

Iris Newhouse says she's a "disasterholic," though luckily, she's never lived through one.

"I don't like disasters, but I like to help people," the 81-year-old explains. She returned a few weeks ago from a flood in DeKalb, Ill. Since 1985, she's been on more than 100 Red Cross deployments.

In addition to apartment fires in town, she has been on three-week volunteering excursions to 35 states as well as Guam, Samoa and Southeast Asia. She also drives as many as 1,000 miles a month delivering blood around Oregon.

Sept. 14 would have been Newhouse's 50th wedding anniversary; her husband died in 1994. The date also marked 50 years that Newhouse has lived in her home on Northeast 106th Place.

She spent part of the day the way she does many days, at Table 11 at the Denny's on Northeast 104th Avenue with some familiar waitresses and friends, mostly Vietnam veterans she met when her now 49-year-old son was a manager there.

The following Sunday, Newhouse found herself in the same booth after church talking about what she calls her "other family," explaining that Red Cross volunteers around the country have taken to calling her Mom.

Q: What's the main thing you've taken away from your hundreds of days of volunteering?

A: In the San Francisco earthquake (in 1989), there was a little couple that came in. They'd been married over 50 years. She sat down, gray hair, her eyes just full of sparkle, and she says, "Well, I told my husband all I ever wanted was a view. That's all I have left's a view." It was true. The house was pretty well gone. All the pictures of her family, things of her children and grandchildren that she'd lost, she wasn't bemoaning that fact. I admired her very much for that. She'd lost so much, but she had a good attitude. It's those people I learn from, or try to anyhow.

Q: Has your experience prepared you for a disaster here?

A: Someday we are going to have a terrific earthquake here in Portland. We just don't know when. But Red Cross is planning for it. We have things on the other side of the river in case we can't cross the river. (We) have places signed up to be shelters.

Q: But emotionally?

A: In Pennsylvania, one man was giving one of our workers a hard time, and I went over there and said something, and he got a little nasty. His wife was trying to shush him up. The next day, he came back and apologized. "I knew that wasn't you," I said. "If this happened to me, if I lost everything like you did, how would I act? I don't know."

Q: A lot of people in their 80s aren't up to saving us from earthquakes.

A: I think I've just been very lucky. I'm overweight, but other than that, I'm healthy. What bothers me is some people (say), "I am so bored. There's nothing to do." There are so many ways to volunteer. There's Red Cross, there's Salvation Army, there's Catholic Charities. If you can't do anything but sit and rock a child, at Emmanuel Hospital, they have that program to rock the kids. Help at the schools. Listen to kids read...Hundreds of places you can volunteer to help people or do something.

Q: Out of all of those, why did you choose disaster relief?

A: I like to travel and also to help, so I thought that would be a good way to do it. One fellow (at a flood in Kentucky) said he didn't want help. And I said, "Well don't you help your neighbor?" He got real upset with me, "Well, naturally!" "Well I'm just your funny talking neighbor from Oregon." I'm the one with the accent in the hills of Kentucky. He said, "OK." That was all right because it wasn't charity. And it isn't charity. It's neighbor helping neighbor.



This is the original blog post linking to the story before the OregonLive url expired.

I really love the chance to tell the story of a single, interesting person. So I jumped at the chance to interview Iris Newhouse, an 81-year-old Portland resident who has been on over 100 Red Cross deployments, for the O.

It sounds cliché, but she truly is an inspiration. She made me want to volunteer, but was also so down-to-earth that she made me not feel bad about doing very little volunteering so far in my young life. “Most people can’t take the time off,” she says of non-retirees. “They have a funny habit of eating and making house payments.”

Tecate: The Happiest Place on Earth

DSC02583“ARE JEW A FAIRY?” Miguel shouts at me in the bathroom of the Acapulco Club in Tecate, Mexico.

“Si quieres preguntar si yo sea maricon, la respuesta es que no.”

“ARE JEW A FAIRY? SOMOS AMIGOS, VERDAD? ARE JEW OK?” he shouts as he dips his hands in a barrel of water to wash them. He always shouts when he tries to speak English.

“Somos amigos, claro. Estoy bien. No te preocupes.”

It wasn’t until the next morning that Matt pointed out that he had to have been yelling, “ARE JEW AFRAID” and I only misunderstood because I was a bit jumpy. My tight pants attracted more catcalls than a miniskirt and everyone in Tecate thought I was gay.

Until I put on a white blazer, white dress shirt, white shoes, a bolo tie and a silver bracelet.

Then they were just confused. Which was significantly less hazardous to my health in the land of machismo.

But let me back up a bit.

Mark, Matt and I chose to go to Tecate, a town 38 kilometers east of Tijuana, because there was little to no information available about it on the Internet. We had no idea what we’d find there other than an abundance of Tecate beer and hopefully trouble.

Immediately after crossing the border, it was clear we’d find both.

A smokestack in the middle of town pumps white, sulfur gas into the air. It’s a byproduct of the enormous brewery.

While driving along the road next to the border—a mere few feet into Mexico—the pavement suddenly ended. Matt’s fancy new Volvo was suddenly off roading. We were surrounded by hand-written signs and stray dogs.

We followed a sign shaped like a cross lined in gold bulbs hoping it would be a hotel. It turned out to be a pharmacy, but next to it was Motel Paraíso. Three hundred pesos, or thirty bucks, a night.

The furniture there is made of plywood and a one-foot-by-one-foot window in each room faces the outside world. Our view: a pile of rubble from a wing of the motel that recently burned down.

Our windowsill was scorched.
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In the one block walk from the pharmacy to the motel, my tight pants drew at least three whistles or shouts. After checking in, we walked to what we thought was a disco. It turned out to be a quincenera. The fifteen year olds outside thought I was “guey” too.

Now “guey” ain’t a bad thing to be, and I’ve been known to make out (or more) with a dude (or five). But in a stray-dog Mexican town with dirt roads and not a single other band of tourists in sight, it was decided that, since I only brought one pair of pants, I would have to don the rest the full white outfit and assume the name Mr. Hollywood for the rest of the trip.

It did the trick. Everyone thought I was insane or from Eastern Europe. Which was good because that way they didn’t want to kick my ass.

After a couple of beers and some live mariachi, Matt, Mark, and Mr. Hollywood found themselves in a pool hall where they serve 40s of Tecate. We were the only gringos there and they switched from Mariachi to Nirvana a few minutes after we walked in.

A pudgy fellow in work boots and a white t-shirt came up and introduced himself to us. Only Matt—who grew up in Puerto Rico—could understand his rapid Spanish. His name was Edgar and he said to let him know if we needed anything. We bought him a 40 and he asked us to play pool with him and his friends.

Edgar realized I wasn’t as quick as Matt with the Spanish so he slowed it down for me. He was 20 years old, had lived in Tecate for 10 years, and loved it. His friend, Miguel, used to deal drugs in Seattle.

“I JEWST TO LEEVE IN SEATTLE” he shouted when he found out I live in Portland.

“¿Que hiciste allí?”

“SELL DRUGS.”

“Sail boat?”

“SELL DRUGS.”

“Ship yard?”

“SELL DRUGS.”

“Oh, sell drugs!”

Around this time, Edgar began making curvy woman gestures with his hands and asking if we wanted to go somewhere else. So the three gringos and four locals got into Edgar’s Bronco.

As he floored it in reverse the back seat lurched forward. It was clear that it wasn’t bolted down.

Edgar proceeded to jump curbs, speed, and off-road his way across town. Mark hit his head on the ceiling. My arm was sore the next day from clutching so tightly to the “oh shit” handle.

“¿Dónde vamos?” I asked.

“Acapulco.”

Knowing that Acapulco was hundreds of miles away, I really hoped there was a bar here by the same name. When we arrived there after a 20 minute rollercoaster, my fellow gringos and I discussed in English how glad we were to be alive.

And how glad we were to be in Tecate.

Acapulco is a strip club, and in Mexican strip clubs, you have to court the stripper before you get a lap dance. Edgar decided that Mr. Hollywood needed to woo a stripper.

So he found one named Paloma, gave her some money, and told me I had to dance salsa with her onstage.

Thank goodness I had gotten extensive dancing lessons from the most beautiful—and forgiving—partner in the Pacific Northwest some weeks before.

I couldn’t wait to get home and write my gracious instructor since I think I pulled off the dance. Matt was less convinced. “You certainly moved a lot,” he said.

Then Matt gave Edgar seventy pesos to give to Paloma who came over to my chair, straddled me, and shoved my face between her enormous breasts. Even Miguel, who seemed to be the sensible one in the group, continually encouraged me to grope her within her panties.

My American strip club reflexes screamed, “Don’t touch the stripper!!!” so I didn’t do it.

Following my lap dance, Edgar had become so drunk I could no longer understand his Spanish. I had also forgotten most of the language myself by that point and had resorted to shouting “Joder!” in different tones of voice depending on the situation.
Edgar knocked over a table, smashed a bottle, tried to fight Miguel, fell down, stood up, yelled, groped a stripper, and offered to take us to another bar.

We were out of money. We asked to go home. Miguel asked if I was afraid, but I thought he was asking if I was a fairy. He wanted to go home too, but was going to stay around to protect us from Edgar.

We bounced, skidded and sped back to Motel Paraíso. Edgar asked for Matt’s phone number. One of the locals, a short fellow who mostly paid attention to his girlfriend rather than us, whispered to Matt, “Darle un numero falso.” So he did.

The sun was rising as we went to bed and it was quiet.

But we were awaked a few hours later by what sounded like construction in our room. It was just the pile of burned rubble right outside the window.

The rest of the trip was filled with first-rate fish tacos, shopping for Western clothes.
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Then we went looking for an archaeological site. Which we never found.

We found a pile of cars instead.

Mark and I accidentally passed the town of La Rumorosa where the turn off to the archaeology was and ended up on a windy mountain road it’s impossible to turn around on.

We stopped to take in a fantastic view and noticed some wrecked cars in the distance.
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Climbing over the rocks for a couple of hundred yards revealed one of the strangest sites I have ever laid eyes on. There were at least 30 cars, all piled on each other from the same dangerous turn. The ones at the bottom were more rusty than the ones on top and you could see where the cars had impacted each other and where there had been fires.
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It was like something right out of the Simpsons, just one car flying off the same curve after another.

We stayed and contemplated all the death that had taken place here and hoped that no more cars flew over the cliff while we were in the crash zone.

Then we took some photos, which now populate our space.

I was really sad the first time I had to speak English at a gas station once we crossed the border. A weekend is not enough to do Tecate and its environs right.
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Photos: by Mark.

Just Throwing This Out There: Brad Religion

fratSo Mark and I have been practicing some Bad Religion tunes with our new band lately (and special guest star Fire Hydrant leadman Matt Menhe). Which got me to thinking of what would make a funny BR cover band…

My best idea: Brad Religion. Bad Religion songs retooled into songs about partying. You could do “1000 Pledges” (…are born every fuckin’ day), “Ingested” (a cover of “Infected” about all the things you eat on dares), and “The Panty Raider” (say it to the tune of “Generator”).

A Greek-themed Nirvana cover band would probably be more appropriate (sadly).

Photo: Actual White Stripes fans. Taken from mtv.com.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Just Throwing This Out There: Tootin' Khamuns

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Ever since I started a theme band of my own, I have this habit of coming up with ideas for theme bands. Since one theme band is about all a man can handle, these ideas go to waste.

Or make that went to waste.

That’s right, I’m giving them to you, loyal readers. From now on, I will present one ludicrous band idea every Wednesday on this site. They are yours for the taking. If someone out there takes one of these ideas and runs with it, I will be most flattered and invite them to play in my basement.

So, without further ado, here’s my first idea. See, I’m down here in Fullerton, California, hanging out with my buddy Mark JW. It’s probably getting a little chilly where you are, but here in Orange County, it’s still summer. I find myself spending large portions of the day shirtless (and pants-less when no one’s around).

Mark and I were getting ready to take a dip in the pool at his apartment complex when he pointed out that, with the towel on my head I looked sort of Egyptian.

I smelled a theme band.

“The Tutankhamuns,” I thought. “What kind of band would be called the Tutankhamuns?”

Then it hit me. An ancient Egypt-themed ska band called the Tootin’ Khamuns. The toaster (the guy who goes “Hey! Hey! Pick it up!” through the set) would be dressed as a mummy. The frontman, a pharaoh. Everyone else in loin cloths and eye makeup. You’d play songs like, “The Scarab Skank,” and the Bengals-inspired “Skank like an Egyptian” and some of your lyrics would be in hieroglyphics—you’d just shout, “Hand! Reed! Swirl!” between bitchin’ horn parts in the harmonic minor scale.

Go forth. Rock the sarcophagus.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Pierced Arrows Never Looked Better

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So I've written about Pierced Arrows a few times now, but this piece for the September issue of Seattle Sound is definitely the sharpest looking. Actually, it's probably the sharpest looking piece I've ever published. Thanks Andy Batt!


As far as I know, this is the first story to explore the Dead Moon breakup in detail. Click on each page to view a larger version in flickr.

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Yeah, I know it took forever to put this piece up. Sound doesn't put their content online, so it took a little doing.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Junkface: Kalamazoo, Columbus, Tizoli, NYC

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After Randy’s phone cut out last time I talked to him, the thing was dead. And it stayed dead. I finally had to call Carlos from Deer or the Doe and get him to put Ryan from Junkface on the phone to catch up on a few days that we had missed.

Day 9: Tuesday, September 11, 2007
I, for one, am real glad I’m way over here on the West Coast. Sounds like some crazy shit has been going down for these guys out East. For instance, the boys ran into the Sasquatch in Kalamazoo, Michigan.



Day 10: Wednesday, September 12, 2007
The dudes got a chance to see ex-Junior Private Detective vocalist/Tranquilazer bassist/my one true love Emilie Strange in Columbus, Ohio. It was the debut show of her new band called…Ohio.



Days 11 and 12: Thursday and Friday, September 13 and 14, 2007
A bona-fide haunting went down in Tizoli, New York.



Day 13: Saturday, September 15, 2007
Within minutes of arriving in New York, Deer or the Doe bassist Clint realized his dream of becoming a drag queen. Around this point I started to wonder if Ryan was pulling my leg. You decide!



Photo: Ryan holding a credit card in his mouth while playing keys. He commonly uses a credit card as a bass pick. By Sound on the Sound.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

You Don't Know Me: MFNW 2007

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So at the Music Fest Northwest after party, I started on Tequila. I mean, I had to match last year's madness and I wasn't anywhere close when I arrived. But after a couple of drinks they ran out of tequila. So I switched to vodka. Then they ran out of vodka. So I switched to beer. Then I lost my mind. I talked about garage rock with Tom Humphreys all night, didn't dance with any babes, went home and puked. The next morning I had the worst post-college hangover I have known and had to drive to Popeye's in my bathrobe to obtain nourishment. I kind of forgot about MFNW, which woulda been a bummer because I had a blast. Luckily, my adventures are recorded here on HARP Magazine's website.

Photo: Jackie-O Motherfucker, taken by Michael Byrne in his final hours as a Portlander.

We're the new Northeast...

Originally published in The Oregonian on September 13, 2007. By Jason Simms.

When Shawnna Ramirez, her husband and three sons first saw their house facing Lynchwood Park in outer Southeast, they had the same first impression most would: nice home in a nice middle-class family area.

They paid $284,000 for the house in the neighborhood of ranch-style homes northeast of Powell Butte and moved in April 1.

Then the trouble started. The house was egged the first week. Someone “didn’t like the fact that there was going to be someone living here,” Ramirez says.

Then she noticed daily drug deals in the street. Cars would pull up, exchange money and take off. “It’s hard enough to keep your kids drug-free and then to have all that going on out your front window,” she says. “I just had to do something.”

But residents aren’t sitting still — thanks to Ramirez — as crime migrates in. They’ve formed a neighborhood watch and foot patrol.

Gang activity and other problems have shifted east of 82nd Avenue as North and Northeast gentrify, says Teri Poppino, crime prevention coordinator for east Portland.

Or as Portland police Officer Shad Ron told 22 residents gathered for the first foot patrol in late August: “We’re the new Northeast.”

Ramirez got things rolling by visiting the 90 houses closest to the park. Because of the personal contact, she says, 45 residents came to a meeting. There, neighbors discovered they weren’t the only ones noticing problems.

Cassaundra Orndorff, 13, used to walk through Lynchwood Park to and from school. But she made an unsettling discovery on a field trip to draw the large park with its towering firs.

“We found a couple of needles, undergarments,” she says.

Residents including Patti Keller have seen someone they call the “curby bandit” rifling through recyclables. He’s not looking for cans: “It’s like he’s filing,” says Keller. Virginia Bonnerlinn got a locking mailbox after medication was stolen.

The neighbors are now submitting information for a neighborhood map, enabling them to include names and addresses when they report illegal activity to police.

About half volunteered for the foot patrol. Groups of three or four will make the rounds and report suspicious activity. Of Portland’s rougly 650 neighborhood watches, about 12 have foot patrols.

The patrols can be extremely effective, says Poppino. She oversaw one in the Argay Park neighborhood of outer Northeast that began in 2003. Patrols collected small plastic bags that had been used to hold drugs. Over four years, the number of bags dropped from dozens to zero.

The key is making criminals feel unwelcome, Poppino says. Argay residents “had a higher profile in the neighborhood, and the problem solved itself.”

And in Lynchwood, with an especially high rate of participation and a “well-organized and detail-oriented” leader, Poppino has no doubt the same can be done there.



This is the original blog post linking to the story before the OregonLive url expired.

That’s it, North Portland. I’m out of here. I’m going to East Portland. You heard right, I’m moving east of 82nd Avenue. Why? Because this place is too fancy nowadays! And all my gangsta and hooligan buddies have relocated to East Portland. I learned all about it when I wrote a story that came out last Thursday in the O. (Note: The curby bandit was taking papers from recycleables—presumably for identity theft. He’s no common can collector.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Junkface: Minneapolis, Marquette, Houghton, Madison, Chicago

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This installment of the Junkface audio tour diary takes us through what those vested and tied lads were up to during Music Fest weekend.

There seems to be a theme developing here. Junkface and Deer or the Doe tend to get close to big crowds but not actually play in front of them. A hundred emo kids missed out in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Day 5: Friday, September 7, 2007


Day 6: Saturday, September 8, 2007
Randy and Ryan used to live in the upper peninsula of Michigan, so when Randy says he got coffee in Marquette, Michigan and it felt like home, I’m not sure if he means Portland or Michigan…


Day 7: Sunday, September 9, 2007
Here’s a photo of the “power horn” Randy says got the crowd into it in Houghton, Michigan. The blog he's talking about catching up on is this one on localcut.
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Day 8: Monday, September 10, 2007
This clip from Madison, Wisconsin is waaaaay over a minute, but it delivers a hilariously awkward “groupie” story.


Now, all that’s pretty funny, but even after three minutes, Randy hadn’t addressed something I knew had to be on his mind. While he was kicking it in that dorm room, Swim Swam Swum—a trio in which he plays drums and Clint Cunningham of Deer or the Doe plays bass—was opening for Wolf Parade at the Crystal with a couple of fill-ins borrowed from Tranquilazer.


Day 9: Tuesday, September 11, 2007
And we finish this installment off with another story of Junkface playing in the vicinity of a big crowd, but not actually to them in Chicago, Illinois. Randy’s phone cut out right where this clip ends, so I hope I’ll still be able talk to him tomorrow!


Photos: Randy by Sound on the Sound and megaphone by Jason Quigley.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Viva La Femme

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Originally published in The Oregonian on September 6, 2007. Photos and text by Jason Simms.

BeBe J was the perfect image of grace last Sunday night in the Portland Room of the Oregon Convention Center.

As she stepped onto the wide stage fit for a Prince concert, a thick, soft layer of her purple dress peeled away, remaining in a mound around her ankles like an exotic plant and revealing a skin-tight glittery gown.

She waved from the catwalk, and from table 70 – the farthest from the action – she seemed like a monarch. Distance is your friend in any impersonation contest. Female impersonators are no different.

This was the 26th annual La Femme Magnifique International, hosted by Portland’s own Darcelle XV (namesake of the longest running drag show in the country), and widely regarded as the biggest beauty pageant in drag show business.

But all was not as refined as BeBe’s entrance in the formalwear competition.

“She looks awful!” audience member Clayton Walker heckled loudly at Cicely, the winner of the 1985 pageant. Previous winners performed throughout the night, donating the hundreds of dollars they made in tips to charities such as Camp Starlight, a summer camp for children affected by HIV/AIDS.

Doug Foufos, another face in the crowd, came to the performers’ defense, explaining that a sense of tradition and honor is often more important than sex appeal. “If it weren’t for that old troll, none of us would be here,” he said of no former winner in particular.

Despite the camaraderie, competition was fierce. In addition to two Portland contestants, five others came from Denver to Honolulu after winning regional competitions. They paid their own way to be here, not to mention the $400 earrings and $250 dresses they rotate for four phases of competition.

After the first phase, Bebe seemed to be one of the front runners. But there was some tough competition in the theme round, when performers wear costumes made to match the year’s theme, in this case, famous animated villains.

A couple of Cruella Devilles and a Queen of Hearts seemed a bit Disneyland, but Sophia, another Portlander, wowed the crowd in her Catwoman costume complete with cracking whip.

But anyone who saw BeBe walking around before the competition had no fear. A pair of male buttocks never swayed and quivered with such femininity. Rumor has it she also had her nose and chin done. Only hormones and breast implants are barred as performance enhancers.

Later in the talents competition, Sophia performed as a lip-synching Tina Turner facsimilie with the legs to pull it off and elicited the largest gasp and applause of the night with a double spin.

As Clayton Walker quipped: “You wouldn’t understand if you’ve never tried to spin in three-inch heels.” Apparently, he and most of the audience had.

But Mexican-born BeBe’s Latin baile — with a cast of four men to carry her around — was a clear hit with the crowd.

Emcee Darcelle stood at the side of the stage watching the action, about a quarter of her 7-plus feet belonging to her blond wig. Who was Darcelle rooting for? “I have a favorite, but I never choose,” she said. “ I have to be so neutral it makes me sick.”

The the final round began: the elaborate Vegas showgirl competition. A peacock the size of a Volkswagen strutted onto the stage followed by a scantily clad contestant with a 3-foot Spartan-style feather headdress, proving the pageant to be something of an athletic event with a focus on neck strength.

BeBe bore a magnificent series of thick cords, like a pre-historic purple and pink fern, as though it were a beret, kneeling and smiling at audience members along the catwalk.

The moment of truth arrived.

Sophia took runner-up honors. It was all or nothing for BeBe. If she lost, it would be a robbery as far as the locally biased crowd was concerned. Luckily, the judges agreed.

Young men flooded the stage to hail their new queen.



This is the original blog post linking to the story before the OregonLive url expired.

In yesterday’s Oregonian you’ll find a piece on La Femme Magnifique International (with probably the silliest headline ever applied to a story I wrote), which, from what I understand, is the biggest drag pageant there is.

I’m greatly indebted to a couple of sources in the story for hanging out with me and answering questions throughout the night. The event was really fun, but sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s going on if you’re a drag queen n00b like me.

If you have any drag wares I can borrow let me know…I’m tempted to try to enter the pageant next year. I think my Dagger of the Mind skills would be really valuable in the competition.

Photos: Bebe J’s headdress (above), and her coronation as victor (below...that’s Darcelle XV on the right). By me.
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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Junkface: Spokane, Bozeman, Mt. Rushmore

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So this music blog I used to write for, localcut.com, has a lot of rad tour diaries. Well, actually, I don’t know if I can say that with authority. See, I’ve probably read less than a tenth of tour diaries posted there. I just don’t have time for a novel (by anyone except Nick Jaina, who is a genius).

So the other night while at a show at the Green House, which everyone knows is where Randy and Ryan from Junkface live, I came up with this bitchin’ short attention-span-friendly tour diary concept. I am going to talk to a member of Junkface on the phone for one minute each day of their tour and post our conversations here. Below are the first three.

I apologize for the sound quality on this initial set. I have it figured out now and the rest of the installments of Junkface’s three-week tour will be crystal clear.

Day 2: Tuesday, September 4, 2007, 8:42 pm.
A sleepless Randy tells of the band’s adventures in Spokane, Washington and how hard it was to get out of town.


Day 3: Wednesday, September 5, 7:19 pm.
Ryan checks in to say that Junkface pretty much sold out an arena in Bozeman, Montana.


Day 4: Thursday, September 6, 5:58 pm.
Ryan calls to ruin your image of Mount Rushmore


On the next installment: How far will Kyle’s car make it? Will his family come out to see his band in Minneapolis, or will they long for his days as a famous person, drumming for the Hippos (fact)? Will Randy ever get some zzz’s? Stay tuned to find out!

Hey! If you don’t know who Junkface is, check ‘em out.

Photo: Jason Quigley