Your correspondent was perturbed with a feeling of abject nostalgia the weekend last, so I ventured to a neighborhood that I had once called home to see if it had changed much in the last few years. This prompted a rain-infused drive from Corvallis up to St. Johns in Portland, a locale which I had haunted day and night among the mud and the blood and the beer. And the typewriters and coiffed hair.
Upon reacclimating myself to the streets and avenues and a few “good mornings” and some somewhat delicate grunt-backs from passers-by, I worked my way towards the river and down to the grassy knoll, another grassy knoll where certainly somebody has been shot at some time in the past, and I came across two curious teenagers, clipboards in hand, under the glorious St. Johns bridge.
This seemed particularly at odds with either the apathy or intensity that adolescents are known to exhibit. These two were so lackadaisical looking (they leaned heavily towards the apathy of adolescence rather than the intensity) that a clipboard in hand aroused a suspicion and a surrealness more than anything else. Clipboards, as your correspondent perceives the matter, are reflective of industry, or at the very least some sort of purposefulness, which these youths’ body languages were completely devoid of. Seeing me, one of them slunk in my general direction, wearing all black clothes and pure white makeup. He wore black lipstick and multiple superfluous safety pins among the peripheries of the holes in his skinny jeans.
“Will you sign our petition. You don’t have to,” he said to me. I purposefully omit the correct grammar of a question mark because it runs the risk of suggesting some sort of intonation in his voice.
“Petition for what?” I asked.
“For painting the bridge.”
“You want to paint the bridge?”
“Well, not me. I’m not going to paint it.”
“Why do you want it painted?”
“Because it’s a Gothic bridge. So it should be black.”
His friend, who looked almost like his twin, hung in the background and swayed from foot to foot, every so often examining his fingernails, clipboard hanging derelict from his left hand. “Gothic doesn’t necessarily mean black, does it?”
“You don’t have to sign.”
“No, it’s fine, I’m just interested.”
“Like, my aunt was a goth back in the ’90s. I’ve seen pictures of her. She wore like all black. It’s a long tradition. We want to be traditional. Keep that going. Why would they paint a Gothic bridge green?” (At this point I use a question mark because he betrayed a hint of passion). “We need to, you know, preserve it.”
“You mean to preserve the Gothic spirit of the bridge?”
“Have you already asked the city to paint it?”
“Yeah. Well, some person behind a desk.”
“What’d they say?”
“They told us to do a petition, and they told us how to do it.”
I grabbed the clipboard and started signing as we continued our chat.
“Then it goes on the ballot if there are enough signatures? And everyone votes on it?” I asked.
I handed him back the clipboard after putting in all of my information.
“You’re welcome. How many signatures do you have?” He began to point at and count one by one the actual signatures on the page. “About how many?” I asked. “Maybe, like, twenty.”
I reached an ethical impasse at that moment and imagined both the edification and the sadism involved in explaining what the word “equivocation” meant. For it is so often that “doing something for someone’s own good” is used as a rationalization for beating down the brows and spirit of some poor sop, in this case, a seemingly poor lost soul. Informing him of the reality of the situation may have dissuaded him from any action at all for months, nay, years to come. This is the most accurate description of the dilemma as it fell on top of me.
“If I had some knowledge that would potentially be really disappointing to you, would you want me to tell you?” I asked.
“Huh?” He looked at me like I was just about to tell him he now had Saturday school. “Nothing. Good luck.”
He meandered back over to his friend and glanced around the park.
The way back up the slope was laborious, but I got a few grunt-backs from strangers as I approached Lombard Street, and I worked my way over to the camera store that always smelled like a closet full of trapped memory in a Hoboken apartment building.
Scott Moss is a writer, photographer and artist based in Corvallis. You can find him on Instagram at @ScottSMoss or email him at ScottSMoss@gmail.com. He also has a website for his photography, scottmoss.co.