Justin Skolnick lives and works in Portland.

City of Dreams

Posted on in Portland, Oregon

Back then you could have dropped me anywhere within its bounds and, inside two blocks of walking, I could have told you which way to take to the lake, which way to Wicker Park, which way downtown.

Now dream by dream the city is remade, some four years down and two thousand miles out. This is no simple tweaking of the details, no, these here are big-league liberties, big-shouldered impositions of system over system: a wholesale reshaping of place, remaking what the city is — that storied grid at last giving way to profane shapes as real as Algren’s girl, the one with that expressive nose.

Point zero-zero on my dreamscape’s plane is terminal, twice over. I mean a start and an end. Literally, an el stop. A tin-topped, tin-walled tube, all dark and dank, with twin tracks trailing inward high, high overhead, delivering a useless twist: the outbound track abuts an asphalt jetty, spiraling into itself; inbound trains curl skywards in a single gravity-defying loop before tumbling towards oblivion.

But mind: no hope is abandoned here. Hope is in fact that much more desperately held, here, where just beyond the cantilevered gloom glows sunny red-bricked grit. Beyond the tin and tracks, that first block’s first facade is all facade. All unhandled doors repainted thick and ocher over age-old posted bills. All iron-spindled window bars.

The aggregate effect’s so psychically true-to-life that I’m assured in sleep that this dreamed-up cityscape stands in for that one I used to know — even as the streets outside this depot jut at angles impossible to square with, well, with anything really.

It’s the feel of it that’s right, that sense of longing at the barest hints of rooms I’ll never be asked into, the in/out groupings somehow managing to transcend those endless shifts in tenancy and social code, the shifts more radical than whatever group’s most recently arrived can see. Always that Prufrock ache, that wanting in, that “Maybe this next time,” that drive to garner by some clever act an access right to better parties, better friends, better slots in line for concert tix, and brunch invites, queue cutting rights, license to snipe, snark, and side-eye, license to punch down, it grows on you, this hope. It’s never for your good.

And yet the road rolls on. Umpteen miles north, the grassy frontage of a shuttered public school dead-ends to motor vehicles, despite the street’s extending far out past the range of human sight, perhaps forever. A team of volunteers mill about the schoolyard, collecting small puffs of waste to share and marvel at. They’re cordial, they ask your name. They cover the same ground over and over and over again. They mean really well.

On foot, now just a few blocks up, a dreary wood-faced district proffers little tungsten-lighted shops of goods of little use. The objects’ dreary maker-residents subsist on happy hour noms acquired at the dreary local pub. Drink minimum, oh yes, you’d better believe it. Drink up, wanderer. Drink up.

Then, snaking back along the main street — the only thoroughfare so far conceived — back towards the stop where all of this began, a sunrise taqueria hums its warmth among the old outbuildings of an aged strip mall. A mental glitch paints in the alternating storefronts, cell shop laundromat cell shop laundromat, in infinite regression.

But that’s no matter. For once, sitting in that booth, I feel at home, truly at home, as soon as I feel my body sink into the fiberglass seat. Relaxed but somber, still sleeping, …

But intent to note my findings, to write it down, to deliver word, asleep, …

All set to tell the world the way it is, rendering, rending, in that booth, dreaming, …