“Yeah, it does appear to be ground zero for Trump’s Resistance to the Resistance.” Izzy speaks to us via video-chat from his apartment along East Burnside. “In typical Portland fashion, as you’ve likely seen, the Mayor went out to protest with the protesters. In most cities a noble act, in Portland he got shouted down, swore at, had his hair blasted by leaf blowers and then – to add injury to insult – he got tear gassed. In further typical Portland fashion, he got crucified in the press the next day for his actions. You just can’t please this town, though it did play relatively well in the rest of the country. After all, when a mayor of a major American city gets tear gassed in his own city a week after the same city’s citizens are snatched off the street without Miranda rights into unmarked vans… well, that is about as much of a ‘dude where’s my country?’ moment as we’ve had since, I dunno, Kent State?”
I met Izzy Badger over a decade ago when I, your trusted navigator, Vic Neverman, prowled the same Portland haunts. I wasn’t so much a drunken bar-fly as a misplaced mosquito, buzzing on bourbon, tipsily fluttering about. Izzy was the rare Oregonian in a town full of Eastern seaboard exiles and California invaders; he took me in, along with his brothers-at-arms: Kettle the trickster-faun flautist, Cougwar the knuckler, Ginga Ninja the warrior-poet, Stitch the Seamless, Puma the Paladin and, um, well yeah, there was Becky. Many others joined in on the moveable feast, including the deceptively nice guy, Dan the Destroyer, whom we all acknowledged must be snooping for the government, a spook trained at Langley or Quantico or Fort Meade or Groom Lake or wherever they manufactured gentlemen spies of his ilk. Ever since his initiation by fire (courtesy of Kettle’s misplaced cigarette), Dan the Destroyer was there to thwart every aspiration we had; be it global domination, a peaceful night on the piss, or some combination thereof, Dan was there to neutralize our efforts via dissuasion or sabotage. The next morning (or whenever we next woke), we would find ourselves right back where we started and curse, Damn you Dan the Destroyer! Even when we all knew it was Becky’s fault.
Many years, as they’re known to do, have since passed. I’ve suburbanized in Florida. Cougwar is living in Seoul with a lady from Manila. Kettle is eating sins in Seattle. Izzy Badger returned to Portland after a year of Laotian lounging. Dan the Destroyer? Who knows? Dan’s likely back in D.C. swimming in a counter-intelligence think-tank. Back west in Portland, however, the next generation of Dans the Destroyer have arrived in Enterprise rent-a-vans to abduct wayward dissenters and sideward drunks. The Freedom of Speech, per some double-secret order from the Executive Office, has become conditional based on Trumpian logic and enforced by the loveliest Trumpettes scraped-off the bottom of ATF and ICE barrels.
“I mean, in all fairness…” Izzy says as he scratches his jawline in thought. “Dan the Destroyer probably wasn’t a fed. Remember the camping shenanigans on the Columbia River? It was Dan, bloated on marshmallow and whiskey, who put on the ape-suit. He scared the shit out of some dogs and nearly got us all shot. Hardly Skull & Bones behavior, eh?”
Trump has recently compared Portland’s “unrest” to Afghanistan, which echoes the 1980s comment by a Reagan who referred to Portland as, “Little Beirut”. Portland is also called “Stumptown”, presumably for all of the uncoordinated and/or drunken lumberjacks accidentally severing feet. The city is known for its Shanghai tunnels along the Willamette River where drugged men from the prior century were abducted and forced into sailor-boy outfits. I was here in the years around “Christmas Snow-Pocalypse 2010” when the city shutdown after a few inches of unexpected snow left many housebound and desperate enough to entertain thoughts of cannibalism. I departed for Florida to escape the catastrophe, but few were so lucky.
Could Trump be in the right sending paramilitary troops here? Perhaps this city is historically troubled and requires a little unconstitutional persuasion? From my experience, it is an odd vortex of energy in these parts. Portland is the whitest major metropolis in America, arguably the most liberal and in spite of all the strip clubs and leftover hippie free-love, the people here are angry. Everyone has their cross to bear, their crusade, their outrage; everyone is a radical… for something. The Bicyclist Lobby is not just fighting for bike lanes, they won’t be happy until all motorists are exiled. Vegans do not just interrupt your lunch to tell you how the sausage is made; they do horrific performance art demonstrating animal cruelty. Brewers do not just make hoppy beer; they run a pine tree through a mulcher to blend into their batch. The people of Portland are radical, but are they radical enough to be under siege by federal shock troops?
“I told those feds I eat Antifa soy-boys for breakfast then they gave me a ride home in their tank.”-Yorick, the pourman of Portland’s Atlantis Lounge, responding to Vic’s text, “Are you steering clear of los federales?”
After a week of anonymous federal agents wearing miscellaneous camouflage breaking-up peaceful protests, Izzy mentions, “Apparently even the right-wing is finally coming out against this shit. Which makes sense, being as my whole life I’ve been told the second amendment was breathed into existence to fight this exact kind of tyrannical federal flex on local control.
“My partner-in-crime, Mittens, and I, we rented scooters last week to check out the actual scene, thinking scooters would be an excellent means to maneuver away quickly from the body snatchers. What a load of bonch. While we were on our reconnaissance trip, our scooters would lock-up and stop working when we got within a block of the protest sites. The scooter would cease scooting and the robot voice would yell at us while an internal horn would blare until we backed-up and headed the other way. Apparently, the Silicon Valley hipsters who developed urban scooters got the message from the Feds: this is a no fly zone.”
I comment, “That’s the future of transportation, dude. We won’t be able to drive in irregular patterns before long. Our Toyotas are going to speak back to us, ‘No Vic, you do not belong in this neighborhood without a pizza delivery permit’.” Returning to the subject, I ask, “So what is it like out there, from what you saw on your recon?”
“Funny thing is there isn’t much to see. The actual ‘war zone’ is a three block radius. My old office building is two blocks from it, and it sits relatively exactly the same. I talked to a barista on 9th, the protests are happening on 4th, and she said, ‘doesn’t affect us, they never get this far.’ Admittedly the issues always happen much after coffee houses are closed. But my point is the range of mayhem is much smaller than one would think from watching the news or listening to the coverage. It does bum me out they blew up the elk. I always loved that statue, though hated when I got stuck in traffic near it as that meant the freeway out of town was positively gridlocked. There is graffiti to high hell around the two courthouses, which, combined with rigid pandemic protocols, gives the area an eerie emptiness. Also being that it’s Portland, the protest area at night is occupied by lounging homeless by day. All these mangy characters bopping around over street graffiti and unsourced music thumping from flapping tarps as a few Antifa types cook-up bbq in anticipation for the upcoming nights festivities does have a Mad Max feel.”
Why Portland? I wonder. Trump will never win the Pacific Coast (not that there are not a fair share of Confederate flag-waving “Oregon Hill People” who would lay down their life for the President); why concentrate his forces here? Why not keep his poor man’s Einsatzgruppen patrolling his “wall”, or lack thereof, in a Trump-friendly state like Arizona? The optics of Trump policing a town which doesn’t want the help will not garner him new votes. Trump might as well drop napalm and brush off his tiny hands, glad to be done with Portland.
“No doubt about it.” Izzy agrees. “Trump picked the wrong fucking place to play this game. Half the town moved here for just this moment. As someone who’s been in Portland too long, it has become un-interesting to watch the city puff up its chest, because it just continues to allow the place to take itself way too seriously, and only reinforces its provincialism, which was already unbearable to begin with. Portlanders have had an unspoken acknowledgement with each other that the world revolved around them, and for once, it actually does.”