Monday, March 8, 2010

Adrian Eats

The Sabbath

All winter long we took westbound busses downtown to play folk songs on freezing street corners. We were The Messengers: Austin, Peter, Ezra and I. It started when they showed up in front of the office building I worked in at the time. They were wearing matching dark glasses, harp racks, guitars. They stood on the sidewalk outside my window singing “Gloria” until my boss told me to make them stop. Running to the door, I bumped into a table of merchandise and a large bruise spread instantly across my thigh. When I reached the sidewalk, I lifted my hand to silence them, but Peter instead handed me a tambourine. It was a sunny November afternoon, and the whirring cars on Division Street drowned out my pleas for them to stop. I was laughing, my arms gone limp. My boss watched from the window. I suddenly didn’t care. I could do this until dark. Austin and Peter played louder, dancing in circles, but they had changed the lyrics: A-D-R-I-A-N, Aaaadrian.

I hit the tambourine against my leg and started dancing. They asked me if I wanted to go out and play with them that night. The bruise from the merchandise table grew and deepened. It happened to lie in the exact spot where the tambourine hit for the next few months, and thus never fully healed.

We played for quarters and dollar bills until midnight, picked up transient back-up singers, saw players, Coke-bottle tubas. We gathered crowds, crud, displaced street kids who told us we were taking their spanging spot. It was freezing all winter. We’d play until we couldn’t feel our fingers: “Sister Ray,” “House of the Rising Sun,” everything by Brian Jonestown Massacre. At midnight we’d stop by Voodoo Doughnuts under the Burnside Bridge, and pay for a five dollar, ten-gallon utility bucket of day-olds: grape flavored, maple and bacon, Butterfinger. We’d take the bucket to a twenty-four-hour coffee shop, purchase coffees all around, and take a seat by the window that faced the train station. We’d continue digging through the bucket: butter horn, blueberry, Fruit Loops stuck to the frosting. Austin and I sat on the overstuffed couch and talked until three, happy to let the conversation go on forever. The nights felt endless, the talking never lost its pleasure as long as we didn’t move from our spot. There was a feeling of holiness, of being in exactly the right place, our teeth sunk into cake. The coffee shop was in Portland's Chinatown, where all the methadone clinics are, and we'd hand out doughnuts to the homeless people waiting in the bus mall. We’d catch the night-owl busses home, and one of us always ended up stuck with the empty bucket.

We were The Messengers. Ezra’s family was Jewish. Every second Friday that winter his mother would serve a Sabbath meal after we got home from busking. She would wait for us, sometimes until eleven. We’d come through the door clanging, a case full of cash, and then join them in the dining room: The Messengers and Ezra’s family. His mother cooked four-course meals: stuffed grape leaves, homemade yogurt, empanadas, winter greens, challah, olive tapanade, vegan white cake with black coffee. The meal would last two, three hours, and we, The Messengers, would make doe eyes at each other from our seats wondering if we’d ever been so happy.

At a later date, on the couch in the coffee shop, I said to Austin, “You never know when you’re in the thick of something."

You have a few great nights with a group of people, and the following few months you spend together are in pursuit of those nights. Often, and thankfully, they are usually the only ones you remember. Sometimes you stay together just because of those two or three nights, waiting for a new event to deliver the old feeling. New isn't always bad, but we often miss it being so fixated on one previous moment. We miss it, possibly forgoing a great thing that could have been. Or maybe that was it, and it never happens again.

The last time we played together, it was just beginning to get warm. All winter long, we had thought, if winter can be so sweet, just wait until summertime! It turned out that the prospect of sun was deceptive. As winter receded, so did our attention spans, and so did the buckets of doughnuts and The Sabbath and the holiness and the homemade challah. It was late May. I was seventeen-years-old. We played for a couple of sleepy hours on the bank of a vintage clothing store in a nice neighborhood. We made three dollars, and then wandered around a chain supermarket and spent the money on pink-frosted sugar cookies, hot jojos, deep-fried jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese from the deli counter. After eating all of it around a picnic table at a neighboring park, we felt sick. Austin jumped around the table shaking a maraca, trying to get us excited, though it only darkened the mood when no one stirred. We ran into a friend, and he tagged along, using Austin’s guitar to play Bob Dylan songs, but half-heartedly. We were bored of those songs. They weren’t even the ones we liked to play.

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