Rendered Fat Content


Jacob van Hulsdonck:
Still Life with Meat, Fish, Vegetables, and Fruit (c.1615–20)

" … a narrowing and no longer terribly elegant Broadway."

When my first wife and I moved to Portland, OR, in December 1975, we arrived as refugees. We marveled at the supermarket produce aisles after surviving two winters living in rural NE Pennsylvania, where produce seemed scarce off season. In Portland, all things still seemed possible. We took a main floor apartment on a bus route—by which I mean, the Belmont bus actually passed through our living room four times each hour— and we set about creating our future. Our future, like all futures always have, would get cobbled together by means of Vectoring, a process by which billions of possibilities get winnowed down to a single manifestation. Nobody actually understands how this process works because it has altogether too many moving parts and nobody stands positioned to monitor or even sense the presence of all of them, or even of most of them. We attend, instead, to the few within our purview and project what we expect to result.

The result famously manifests as something other than what we expected, and we might, as I did this weekend, consider how it was that Portland's present manifested out of its past.
Its present seems almost entirely unrelated to its past, which seemed so filled with promise and possibility, and anchored so securely in a rather patrician if largely fictional past. Downtown Portland recently adopted a new slogan intended to embody its aspiration for itself: Safe and Clean, every rifled through garbage can proclaims, the immediate surrounds resembling neither safety nor cleanliness on an early Sunday morning after the redeemable bottle collectors have emptied each can's contents seeking sustenance. The squatters blocking downtown sidewalks with their tents do not exude anything like a sense of confidence, safety, or cleanliness.

We too casually consider causes and effects when we most likely never imagine the most likely causes, but we only imagine that causes and effects influence what manifests. The Vectoring seems to operate more like an I Ching master's yarrow stick manipulating: dividing, sorting, separating, re-sorting, dividing again, a jumble of fine motor movements resulting in something reliably different every time. What were the crucial parts? Which most influenced the result? These seem altogether too causal of questions, ones intended more to satisfy expectations than to understand. The Vectoring process cannot be reduced much beyond appreciating and acceptance, understanding it seems beyond reasonable expectation. It seems essentially infinite, irreducible because of that. Nobody's in charge.

It seemed to the post-modern eye of this visitor that Portland currently inhabits a very late status quo, one which has very likely already collapsed into an unpredicted and unwanted future but which persists in behaving as if it was successfully deflecting it. I cannot imagine the amount of empty commercial real estate just in the downtown core, but it seems more than likely that more than half of it presently sits unused and hollow, and even much of the remaining must certainly be under-used in the current environment where This Damned Pandemic keeps mutating to revive primal fears of showing up for work in shared office space. I expect that the only people who routinely slip inside might be the janitors, but their contribution can't possibly continue long term. Eventually, those spaces will be shut down and emptied of furniture, people will assume some different manner of living than one prominently featuring commuting and commercially communing. The shops still open will eventually close like those we thought were eternal but which now sit boarded up along a narrowing and no longer terribly elegant Broadway.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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