And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
— W.B. Yeats
Ah, Yeats, I am old, I am old.
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
I’m sorry, I have to talk about Portland again. Arrived yesterday.
We’ve flown the coop, lit out, made tracks, and otherwise decamped to the Rose city for a two week stay. No hotel room with a crummy view of the freeway this time, but a cottage of sorts, in an actual neighborhood.
“Portland,” said a friend over dinner last night, “is San Francisco with trees.”
There are fifteen Portlands floating around, two in Australia. This one happens to be in Oregon.
But what, pray, is the problem with California?
Apart from all the cars, it goes back to my third grade reader, with pictures of kids throwing snowballs in their backyards. It doesn’t snow in California backyards, so you grow up in California feeling other places are somehow more real. Nor is it helpful when you can’t find a place to park.
Saturday. We go to the farmers market in Lake Oswego, a town in the woods south of Portland with a whistle train running by every few hours.
“You never hear it,” one of the residents says to me.
I had begged Nora to go because I had to see the lake. My fantasy of paradise is a house on a lake, the grass rolling down from the back porch to the water. I just know it’s out there somewhere, but the houses we saw were too closely packed together—life as a sardine.
“Let’s eat,” says Nick.
We meander in the market’s food court. A sandwich sign catches Nora’s eye. She orders a caprise, Nick something with chicken in it. Next door they sell sausage. I’m a sucker for sausage.
We spread out on a lawn overlooking the lake, the grass impossibly green. Why not just live at the farmers market?
After lunch, the ice cream booth. Exotic flavors with salt in them. No chocolate.
“You’re not getting any?” Nora says to me.
“There’s no chocolate.”
Later that afternoon, back at the cottage, I tell Nora I’m going out to get butter and paper towels.
“Do we need them now?” she says.
“Dada, can I go with you?” says Nick.
“It’s going to be boring,” I say. “And I’m only getting butter and paper towels.”
Yesterday I had seen a Ben and Jerry’s next to the supermarket. This is my real mission. By rights, I am owed an ice cream cone, but taking Nick to Ben and Jerry’s to watch me eat one is an argument waiting to happen.
“Okay, dadda,” he says. “I’ll stay home.”
I am a liar and sneak, a crappy father, a destroyer of family values. It’s only now, thinking back on it, that I notice Nick has used the word “home” to describe the cottage.
Infinitely adaptable, kids.
SHAPE IN THE CUP
A double scoop in a cup, chocolate on the bottom, cherry garcia on top. It’s the best ice cream I’ve ever had and fills, for a little while, the shape in my middle where the fantasy house on the lake had been. I bite off greedy mouthfuls in the parked car, the chocolate thick and spicy-sweet.
Somehow I make a mess, pink and brown stickiness all over my fingers. I fish a wipe out of the glove compartment to clean my mouth and hands. I stuff it into the cup and squeeze, then cruise for a trash can to get rid of the evidence. In California you can find trash cans on most corners, but not, apparently, in Oregon. I cruise a long time.
“I got the towels and butter,” I announce at the cottage door to no one in particular.
Nick inspects the goods and gives me a hug.
“I love you, dada,” he says.
In the evening the empty shape inside me comes back and stays the night.
And there was evening and there was morning. Our second day.
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