I’m in the midst of my first genuine east-coast autumn in six years. So, feeling wistful and introspective and happy to be stuck in this weird little corner of the Northeast, I collected a few leaves and tried to draw them–like an elementary school craft project.
And it is a little weird, our new hometown. Here’s a striking oddity that I didn’t expect to encounter: I have never lived in a place so completely under the thrall of cigarettes. Even New York, where way more people smoke than they should, has nothing on Portland’s astounding ratio of smokers-to-non-smokers. It’s like Paris, except everybody is wearing Red Sox hats.
A mother, towing children to the bus stop, smoking, a lady in a bathrobe standing on her stoop, coughing and smoking, a cable television technician, waiting for his meatball sub, smoking, a decrepit old lady shambling up to her doorstep, clutching a carton of cigarettes; drivers, with their windows closed, smoking, pedestrians, bicycle riders, smoking, in front of restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, office parks, and of course, bars. A few days ago, after grabbing an afternoon slice, I watched two waitresses from Otto’s stare in bemused stupefaction at the bar next door’s outdoor cigarette butt container, a metal box that kind of looks like a mail slot. It had been opened, perhaps for a cleaning. There was about twelve inches of cigarettes piled up, easily a square foot of discarded butts, slowly emulsifying into a sickly black sludge of tar and paper and rainwater and nicotine. One of the waitresses shook her head in amazement. “Well, that’s appetizing.”
Portland, I do hope that you wise up. After we solve the cigarette crisis, I’ll need to talk to you about your fondness for tie-dye and white-people dread locks. I think we can still be friends, though.