DEAR TRANSPLANT, you fine seeker—adventurer!—new to the Northwest, are you here for the creative life? You have aspirations, and visions of weekends spent high in the park, surrounded by hot chicks with hula hoops, dogs, tattoos, and doughnuts. Do you think any of that comes easily?
You need to know what long-time Portlanders hide. You won't be safe. Not now, not ever. The Dalles Dam—a dam that wiped out 11,000 years of fishing, threatening to destroy Celilo Falls tribes—powers Portland. Powering a city on the breath of generations pumps ghosts through electrical lines, into our walls. If you have any doubt, try a simple Portland Residence Ghost Test: Fast for one week. On the seventh night, unplug your toaster. Rest your iPhone outside the door. Rub Tiger Balm on your temples. Take a niacin capsule. Reach for your medical marijuana stash if you have that extra layer of protection. Music interferes with attunement. Drop the earbuds, now. Turn out the lights. Close your eyes and breathe. Spirits will squirm inside your walls. They may beat against your temples. Some cool the window glass, or drift, small and light as dog hair. Are they rattling in the alley or tapping the floor? Keep trying. Your powers will improve. Ninety-two percent of Portland rates highly as haunted. Spirits, unnoticed, will suck your energy and give it back to the river.
They are forces we can't control, but there are ways to work with them. You'd like a job and a cheaper apartment, and you've searched to the frayed edges of Lents. It's time to pay respect.
Once I met a poor woman lying in bed in Holladay Park Plaza retirement facility. Her voice was frail but she could still reach back through the years to the day she was born. This silver-haired, dark-skinned beauty came into the world the very day Henry Weinhard, across town, drew his last breath, drew his last draught. No bigger than a bottle of beer herself, she was born premature with a crazy urgency that killed her mother in the backroom of a big house on a narrow street in Northeast, at an estate on the wrong side of a new town.
It's been 110 years and one month since her mother and Henry passed, separately but as though in unison. The estate was eventually split into lots, and then the lots were cleaved again. Over the last 10 years, those single lots were cut to build anorexic in-fill houses. Each time developers split a lot, they double Henry's agitation. Do you feel it?
He's here, watching over our microbrews, blessing the kegs he favors. Mostly he sees you and mutters, "Won't get a job in this settlement even if its life depends on it."
What you need, newcomer, is Henry on your side. He's in pain. His brewery has been condo-ized, flanked with a mockery of the workingman's world.
We have perfect timing: 110 years and one month. Let him be reborn.
The silver-haired woman's estate was a house he visited when he felt low. I can't reveal the address. Look for a spot where the street name no longer matches the name etched in the old sidewalk: two names, one corner, two worlds overlapping. Scan until you see skinny houses crowding out older buildings, like lower-jaw baby teeth hanging on.
Here's the tricky part. Don't knock on any doors. Slide between those skinny houses. Climb a fence, wander a backyard. Look for a small patch of what looks like muddy water, brown and shallow, bark dust floating along the top. Find the right pool; it's not water, it's Henry's beer bubbling up between the roots of an old cedar. It's Henry's last carboy.
Lie on the damp earth and drink from Henry's keg. Cup it in your hands, pull it to your lips. Say a prayer to Henry Weinhard, will him to take over your spirit. If he likes you, you'll find work. Wieden and Kennedy-level work, Nike, Ziba Design. He's connected.
But no Fountain of Portland rests unguarded.
Lying on a tangle of blackberry brambles, you'll barely notice when a vine grabs your ankle like a hand from a grave, but the smallest scratch and you risk an infection of ghosts tiny as microorganisms. This tiny life form will make its way through your blood to your brain. You risk being infected with a longing for things you'll never attain. Love and lust so strong, you'll peel your own skin off to escape what you've been most afraid of all these years—yourself. It happens all the time: a newcomer, damp at the knees, digging his fingernails into his own flesh to peel layers off, showing his jawbone, his skull, the green ooze of brain, or another tearing apart her own young breasts, peeling skin back to set loose those overpriced LA implants that Portland never needed, to flash curved ribs, deep red organs tumbling out. These walkers say over and over, "I want, I want—" through gritted teeth, blood-drenched lips. They have dreams! They say, "I only came to hula hoop with clowns in the Rose Garden forever."
Monica Drake is the author of The Stud Book, a novel, and lead liaison for the Pacific Northwest College of Art BFA in writing.