I LEFT PORTLAND one and one half of one year ago. Actually, I don't know how accurate it is to say I LEFT Portland. I live in Los Angeles now, but I come back home all the time. Every single person I love is in Portland. My most treasured feelings all live in Portland, but AWW DANG, I do not live in Portland. I keep a few keepsakes around my MTV Crib to remind me of my home and my beautiful times in the Rose City. A poster from a comedy show, a ticket from a basketball game, and a cut of wood from one of those trails that snakes through the woods and spills right into a neighborhood and makes the city feel like an Ewok village that a wizard summoned from the clutches of the soil itself (hell yeah, Karms mixed a wizard reference with a Star Wars reference, hell yeah, Karms).
I have these physical manifestations of memory, and they mean Portland to me, which means the world to me—but with each return visit home, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: Portland is for sale. The very idea of Portland is for sale.
By no means is this a new problem (is it a problem?), but holy fuck, is it bigger than ever. It seems every third store is just selling Portland back to people who want their homes, their clothes, THEIR ENTIRE EXISTENCE AS A CREATURE THAT BREATHES AND DIES to scream "PORTLAND!" You know the shops of which I speak. An indie rock elf stands behind a counter. Salvaged wood tables play host to smatterings of trumped-up candles and stripped-down candies. Everything has a tiny pine tree on it. Music drones on in the background, the kind of music that Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach are waging whimsical warfare over (not knowing Miranda July ran that well dry by making an ice cream flavor based on that particular Donovan song).
So what does it all mean? Are these stores just Portland's version of Disneyland gift shops? Are tourists coming here to see "Hipsters of the Willamette Valley"? (WATCH AS THE ANIMATRONIC BEARDMAN'S PLAN TO BREW SINGLE-ORIGIN COFFEE IS FOILED BY A GOAT THAT THIEVED HIS POUR-OVER FILTER. BEHOLD A BATTLE OF MICROAGGRESSIONS AT A VEGAN HOT FOOD BAR.) Are these shops just serving the particular peculiar needs of the type of person attracted to Portland? Maybe folk here need body wash that smells like Big Sur. I don't know, but it makes me uncomfortable.
I've spent nearly three years writing this column, trying to define what it is I love about Portland, and I still don't think I've hit on the truth—so it's an uneasy feeling to see this place we love defined so clearly, and at times so cynically, and purely for profit. I'm worried that some people take far more than they give back, that they take run-of-the-mill dreck and somehow associate it with bridges or stumps and sit there like, "I'M PART OF THIS, TOO." Naw kid, you're a parasite. Get symbiotic or get the fuck out.