I rolled into Portland just after sundown on a Friday. The Occupy movement was in full swing, and Stanhope was in town. Two unrelated events with potential entertainment value. I threw a change of clothes and one of my pistols in my gym bag and hit the road.
I don’t belong in Portland. Nevermind the tweakers and the cat-piss smell of meth that floats through the cozy little neighborhoods. Nevermind the strip clubs that pop up next to every other coffee shop.
Portland is the whitest place I’ve ever been. Lesbians and hipsters cling to every surface like fungus, breathing their spores and finger fucking everything kinder and gentler and more equal. Portland tolerates anyone.
I muscled my way through traffic, cursing my GPS and every driver on the road. I was forced to detour by a pair of hipsters on fixies. They kept to my right and ignored my turn signal. By the time I pulled into the Motel 6 my nerves were ragged.
Check-In was painless. I’d had the foresight to make a reservation – for once – and the girl just smiled and swiped my card. I gave my room a quick once-over, washed my face, and hit the street.
I pulled up the map on my phone for a quick azimuth check to the Bagdad Theater. I planned on drinking, and didn’t want to waste my cab money when I was still capable of walking a straight line. I lingered briefly in front of the strip club next to the motel, made a mental note, and moved out.
Jack called me just a block before I reached the theater. He offered to meet me out for a drink before the show. I hit Will Call and headed next door to the bar.
It was a snazzy joint with high ceilings. It was much too clean for me, but it had a certain charm. I settled in at the counter and took a tactical pause to eyeball their bourbons. The bartender came my way and asked about micro brews. I said nothing, pointing instead to the bottle of Pappy Van Winkle on the top shelf.
I motioned for two fingers and asked for a single ice cube.
The bartender popped the cork and set the glass in front of me. I let it breathe for a moment before holding it up to the light.
“Nice choice,” said the middle-aged gentleman sitting to my right.
“Worth every penny,” I replied.
He tipped his glass to me, and I returned the gesture. I took a sip. Twenty years in the barrel for one brief moment on my tongue. It was gone too soon. I was staring into the business end of another drink when Jack arrived. He didn’t stay long, but the company was welcomed. We made a plan to meet up the next day, and I headed back to the theater.
I’d driven by the Bagdad before, but I’d never been inside. I was surprised to find comfortable couches and tables for drinks. The front seating was quickly monopolized, so I posted up on a couch to one side of the balcony. Andy Andrist opened the show. He had been off the stage for over a year. He was half in the bag and hurting for material. A few minutes in, a heckler started in from the far side of the balcony.
Anders tried to ignore it, but the heckler raised his voice, projecting over the whole theater. Anders laid into the man and an uncomfortable silence fell over the crowd. People looked around, murmuring to one another. The heckler stopped.
Anders launched into a rambling story about a group of “marines” near “some Army post” that he’d inadvertently pissed off one night. They threatened to kick his ass, and he’d stayed in the bar until close to avoid them. He ended up sleeping in his car that night, right in front of the bar.
The bit got a few chuckles from the crowd. I shifted in my seat.
Anders decided to build on his head of steam. The rest of the act was an unflinching anti-military tirade. The whole theater was in hysterics, save one person. I suppressed the urge to walk out, and went downstairs for a drink instead. Before I got up, Anders issued a challenge: Anyone who had a problem with him could find him at Motel 6 . . . just a few rooms down from mine.
You’ve got to be fucking kidding me . . . I thought.
I sat through the rest of an unremarkable show. Somewhere during the second act, the heckler started up again. The fat broad on stage tore him a new ass, and security eventually dragged him out. The crowd booed him all the way to the door.
By the time Stanhope came on, I’d stopped caring. He was barely awake, shuffling around in a bathrobe and complaining that he’d had barely enough coke to jump start his brain.
I filtered out with the rest of the crowd, disappointed and listless. I took a lap of the area, scoping out the bars near the theater. Nothing looked promising. It began to rain. I decided to head back toward the motel and made a wrong turn.
I have no idea how I managed to get spun around, but I wandered for quite a while before I stopped to check my phone. I cursed my own stupidity. I had walked in the opposite direction and was now four miles from where I wanted to be.
I checked my watch.
It was still early. If I caught a cab, I could make it back with plenty of time to hit the strip club. I cut over from the neighborhood side-streets to a main avenue. I hadn’t gone far when the first cab passed. I motioned to flag him down, but he ignored me and kept driving. I saw no passengers.
“What the fuck!?” I muttered.
A few blocks later I spotted another while standing at an intersection. The light turned green as he approached and he never even slowed down.
“Motherfucker . . . !” I shouted.
I looked around, throwing my hands up in frustration. I spotted a gas station nearby and headed for it. No one was at the counter when I entered. When the attendant finally emerged from the back, I tried to ask him about the issue with the cabs. He replied in broken English, asking if I needed gas.
I looked outside. There were no vehicles at the pumps. I groaned in resignation. I bought a tall-boy, which the attendant stuffed in a brown paper bag, and walked the rest of the way back to the motel in the rain.
Several cabs passed me on the way.
I emerged a few blocks up from where I wanted to be, coming out by Powell. I spied what, from a distance, looked suspiciously like a titty bar. I chucked my empty beer into the bushes and made my way around back.
No one was working the door and the place was dead inside. There was old professional wrestling playing on a projector screen while a few disinterested looking girls wiggled their asses for the other three patrons. The bartender was dishy. I ordered a double, made small-talk with her, and left.
I lingered at the entrance to the motel parking lot, thinking about sleep. I could see the obscene neon out of the corner of my eye. I couldn’t ignore it. I shoved my hands in my pockets and went next door. I flashed my work ID, but the girl at the door still charged me. Male bouncers wave me by. Women don’t care.
The bartender informed me that it was only an hour until last call, so I’d better make it count. I wrinkled my brow at her, looked down at my watch, and handed her a wad of twenties.
“Shot of Jack and a Bud bottle. The rest in singles.”
She smirked at me and fixed my drinks. I knocked back my shot as she counted out my change. I pushed the glass across the bar.
“One more?” she asked.
I counted off bills from the top of the pile, plus a tip, and turned in my seat to survey the place. She poured one for me and one for herself. We touched glasses and drank. I rolled up my cash and moved down to the rack.
I lingered there for a few songs, but nothing promising came by. It was end-of-shift, and only the middle of the month. No one was worried about the rent. I moved to the next room, which had cozier looking chairs, and posted up. No one else was sitting at the platform. A cute little brunette came out, clicking her heels on stage. I shaved off a few singles before she started. She moved very quickly to my lap, draping her hair over my shoulder.
Her smell hit me – oranges mixed with something synthetic – and I realized it had been a long time since I’d smelled a girl’s hair. I was uncomfortably hard and she knew it. After the song was over she asked if I wanted a private dance.
She laced her arm around mine and lead me into the back room. It was dim enough for me to ignore the girl grinding on some other slob a few seats away. I greased my dancer with a couple of twenties and flopped down onto a cushion. Her outfit hit the floor and she crawled into my lap.
She won points for not using me as a jungle gym. There is nothing arousing about a stripper pressing a knee into your cock. She pushed herself up into my face and brushed her hair over me for the duration of a few songs. She gyrated slowly, pressing her ass down into my lap and rubbing me with her hand.
She dressed as I waited for my composure to return.
“How come I’ve never seen you in here before?” she asked.
“Sex change.” I deadpanned.
She laughed and squeezed my upper arm.
“You’re cute . . . “
I asked her for directions to the nearest hash house and hit the sidewalk again. It was another mile on the hoof, but I didn’t care. The cool air took the blush out of my face as I strolled.
The place was jammed with people. Shitty little tables stuffed with drunks. I ordered at the front counter and landed on a seat at a tiny two-person table. Exhaustion began to take its toll. I pressed my face into my hands and started to drift.
A plate clanked down on the table in front of me, snapping me back to consciousness. I looked up, distantly, and muttered thank you. I picked up my fork and noticed something out of the corner of my eye.
I followed them up a thin pair of legs to the dancer attached. It was the other girl from the back room. She was prettier with normal clothes on, minus the make-up. Her face hung tired. I realized that several of the girls from the club were sitting at the tables around me. Socks recognized me. I pressed my lips tight and looked down at my food.
I choked down my coffee and left.
I wandered a bit on my way back to the motel. The rain let up, reduced itself to mist and steam. I put my key in the lock and stopped. Andy Andrist. That motherfucker. He was sitting up in his room, drunk and stupid. I decided to call his bluff. I marched up the stairs to his door.
I lingered a moment, staring at the number on the door, and the drawn curtains. The lights were off. I knocked anyway. No response. I knocked forcefully with the heel of my hand. Nothing.
He might have been comatose. He might have been hiding. He was probably lying about the room number. I checked my watch. It was after 4 AM. I had to be up in the morning.
I decided to call it and went back to my room.