Once I arrived in Portland I knew the smartest thing to do would be getting a carwash but the best thing to do would be getting a beer. I Google mapped “Sellwood Public House” which I thought to be a bar though I can’t recall ever going there or even anyone ever mentioning it. Chalk it up to Spidey sense or one of those times you guess a thing and you’re not sure if you’re making up the thing or it’s real.
Fortunately, Sellwood Public House is indeed real. But once I’m inside I remember how uncomfortable I feel in bars alone. Not because I’m concerned about safety. I’m concerned about awkwardness.
It’s that feeling when you don’t know where to put your hands, except it’s more like you don’t know where to put yourself. In bars I get all mushmouthed and forget anything I know about alcohol and social interaction and just stand there timidly waiting to be acknowledged yet not wanting to be acknowledged, and wishing this whole thing was automated somehow or that I better knew how to function in such settings. Someday I will get quite good at this whole thing.
I have to admit standing there in discomfort at the bar was an unexpected reminder that I am on my own in this city I’d just arrived in, which sat weirdly with me. Granted, I do all sorts of things on my own, and most of the time, I love it. There’s so much time and space to just be, contemplate your life and existence and surroundings. Feels great. But there’s feel-good-alone and feel-weird-alone, and this moment’s the latter.
I’m trying to build a tolerance for the feel-weird-alone moments because they’re inevitable — and important. They lead you somewhere and teach you something you can’t access when you cut the process short. Maybe that’s part of what this trip to Oregon will be. Lots of feel-weird-alone moments that develop into something unexpectedly good.
To fill the space I write out my last thank-you note for my friends who hosted me en route to Portland. Then scroll through social media before admitting it’s just my tool for avoidance right now.
So I pull out a notebook and start jotting down notes on the trip so far:
Made it Portland! Now what.
My mind goes where it seems to go often lately in solo moments like this: the experience of being single again.
I was in a pretty great relationship with a wonderful guy til a couple months back when we amicably parted. And I know it was good for us both, but – rationality aside, the sadness of loss still ebbs and flows.
I don’t like to admit it, but I miss being in a relationship. This last one had so much good to it, which makes me excited for what’s next. But the thing I am slowly learning/is being beaten into me by nothing less than force is that relationships don’t seem to work on-demand. At least, maybe not the good ones.
Turns out it takes rather aggravating things like time and patience which it appears are, respectively, not in my control and not my strong suit. 🙂 I keep hearing the thing to do in this season is relax and chill out. But I haven’t done a great job listening. Once I start really caring about or wanting something all semblance of chill seems to fly out the window. Somewhere deep down I know that life is long and things have a way of working themselves out. But on an average day, it’s easy to ignore that and hustle and hurry instead, impatient and hungry for what’s next.
I’m a little lost in thought at Sellwood Public House when a wiry man about 45ish plops down in the seat across my table. He’s got a short salt and pepper beard, khaki shirt covered in artistically rendered trout. His words seem slurred but I can’t tell if maybe his normal voice just sounds a little crazy. It’s possible he’s drunk, but I don’t want to assume.
“This is the best table in the whole place, right here. You know that? You know that. Right here, by the window. You know that, you see how nice the light is, right? You know that, you’re writing right here in the light. It’s my favorite seat in the entire place.” He bangs his hand on the table for emphasis at “entire place.”
I say nothing, eyeing him cautiously with the quick assessment one does with strangers talking to them unexpectedly: 1) Am I in danger? 2) Am I uncomfortable enough to leave?
He eyes my open notebook, pen in hand resting on the page.
“You know what? You’re smart. That’s a weird compliment but do you know what I mean? You’re smart. You found the best seat in this place and you’re writing in the sunlight here. I like it.”
This of course, I have to respond to, smiling. “Wow, thanks. That’s nice of you. It’s a good spot, huh? You can see out to the street and everything.”
“Are you a writer? What are you writing?”
“Just some thoughts really. That’s about it.”
“You heard of Paul Auster? I love his writing. He wrote, uh….ah I don’t remember what it is. I’m not that smart.”
I write Paul Auster in my notebook. “I haven’t heard of him but I’ll keep that in mind – maybe if I make it to Powell’s I’ll find something of his.”
“Timbuktu. That’s what he wrote, Timbuktu. I love that book. You’d like it, too, it’s a great one. Paul Auster. Paul A-s-u-t-e-r. Remember that. ”
He pivots suddenly, and buries his face in his hands for a moment. “My pops died not too long ago.” He was 87.” (He thumps his chest once). “87! I’m sorry I’m crying. It’s just that, I’m his oldest friend. What my papa could tell me, ain’t no one else could tell me. You know? He had the words to tell me things no one else could. Yeah, it’s a bitch. The best people in your life go away.”
This hits a nerve for some reason and now I start tearing up a little, too. He goes on though:
“You know, I was a dog in a past life. You like dogs?”
I sniffle and can’t help but chuckle at this latest turn. “Yeah, dogs are OK.”
“Aww!” he proclaims with a twinkle in his eye. “You’ve never had a good dog then!” Grinning and pleased with his punchline, he juts his hand to the center of our table for a firstbump, to which I oblige.
“But that’s the most important thing in life, though: people who can give you love. The best thing you can do for anyone is give them love.” (He says this seriously, as if to make sure he’s heard.) “Without obligation. Love is to nurture another without obligation. Do you know what I’m saying?”
I’m sniffling again and slowly nod…sure. Kind of. Without obligation is a pretty tall order, right?
“Do you really know what I’m saying?”
“I think so.”
He watches me jot something down in the notebook and grins wildly: “Why you doing that?” he asks, gesturing toward my scribbles. “You’re writing things down, that’s smart. You’re ripping it up!”
I’m not sure how to answer why – why does it seem like these words are worth keeping?
“I don’t know, I’m just…kind of…hungry I guess.”
He smiles wider, eyes twinklier: “You know what I say instead of hungry? Hungy!! It’s just slightly shy of hungry. Hungy: You kind of want food. And you kind of want love. Hungy!!
I look up from my notebook to lock eyes with his.
Before I can comment he goes on, “You come here before?!”
“First time I think.”
“And you found the best spot! Best table ever. I’m not afraid of making a fool of myself. But I’m not very smart. And you’re here ripping it up! You know what? ‘The beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity.’ That’s Plato.”
“See, that sounds pretty smart” I offer.
“The most important thing in life: express yourself. Extend yourself. Give love. If you’re going to love someone, give your love to that dude…or that gal…without obligation.”
A beat or two passes, and I try to let the words sit in the air, knowing he’s on to something. Finally I respond: “that’s pretty powerful.”
“Pretty powerful, yes. Pretty f*cking powerful. I know, I’m aware. You’re a writer. I dig that, dude. What’s your name?”
“Megan”, I offer, hand extended.
“Jeffrey” he returns. We shake, and a few more beats pass in the silence.
“Jeffrey, thank you,” I say, “I think it’s time for me to take a walk. You enjoy the table.”
And I walk out of the bar holding back tears I didn’t know lay beneath the surface, and wondering what else there is to learn here.