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First, a moment of silence, please, for Joey Ramone.

Thank you.

Now, this is kind of interesting. When I was 22 years old I moved out to Portland, Oregon to become a rock star. It never happened, although I did play in a number of bands, none of which did very well. The most successful, if you can call it that - we developed a small local following and put out a CD - was called Mission Impossible, a punk-pop-grunge or pop-grunge-punk band that at most provided us with free drinks and a few bucks at a number of local venues. While we were certainly on the rise, aided in a large part due to our contacts out there (including Eliot Smith), we were not moving up rapidly enough for my taste. It was taking too long. I wanted to be a rock star NOW.

One day before practice, when I was in a park downtown, waiting to be picked up by one of my bandmates, a girl approached me. I was kind of in a shitty mood for whatever reason, so to her questions about the guitar that rested at my feet - what kind was it, how long had I been playing, etc. - I gave monosyllabic answers before she left me alone.

Six months later I was at a party when the same girl approached, tapping me on the shoulder and addressing me by name. I hardly remembered her, and was shocked that she remembered who I was, let alone my name. I was also surprised as to how I could have so easily blown her off, as she was adorable, and incredibly smart and sweet besides. I took our reunion to be some kind of sign, as a second chance, and we began dating. Not to sound like a retard, but in retrospect, I really think that this second meeting must have been fated, as she was spectacular, she herself a singer-songwriter, and we fit together perfectly.

Months later, however, after my band broke up, and I was let go from yet another job - followed by a series of circumstances too convoluted and lengthy to go into here - I left Portland, and our relationship ended.

Still with me? Okay. Now here's where it gets interesting. Last week I flew out to Portland to visit my brother, who recently moved out there. I hadn't been back since I left, which was a period of about six years. The second day I was there, I sat down at a café with a copy of Williamette Week (their version of the Village Voice), and who was being profiled in it but no other than this girl (let's call her Lita). The article talked all about her success on the Portland music scene and her new CD, and concluded with a description of the show she was playing in a few days. It would be her first show in months, just in time for me to see her. Once again, I took this to be some kind of fated thing, of some weird connection between us. It had to be, right? Either way, a few days later, I borrowed my brother's car and went to the show.

Now, don't get me wrong. I had no intentions of trying to get this girl back, or of even necessarily catching up. We hadn't spoken in years, and I was just curious, you know, to see how she was, what she looked like, how her music sounded. Besides, the article mentioned that she had recently gotten married, so even if I did have ulterior motives - which I assure you I did not - it was too late.

When I arrived at the show, it was already underway, and there she was up on stage, alone, singing her beautiful, sad songs. She looked exactly the same, and as I stood in the back of the room and watched her, I caught a faint hint of recollection in her eyes, as if she spotted me and recognized me, or simply sensed that a piece of her past had unexpectantly surfaced.

As I watched her I thought how perfectly her voice fit within the setting - a spacious, suitably dilapidated club, perfect Portland chic - and how beautiful she was, although not in an obnoxious, over-bearing, New York way - more in a laid-back, makeup-less, west-coast way. She belonged there, in that city, up on that stage, with her old guitar, the doting audience members not taking their eyes off her. I also realized, as the performance went on, how I myself didn't belong there, was nearly an alien in my present surroundings, and how my uneven Portland experience was not derived simply from post-college malaise but from a real sense of isolation, a real and unchanging feeling of separation, that I only just then fully comprehended. I had gone out there on a whim, knowing nothing about it except that it was clean, young and artistic, and my brief time there, at that stage of my life, was not the happiest.

And now, after so much time had passed, staring at the girl I once dated, even loved, I knew beyond a doubt that this wasn't my scene. It was such a strong feeling, such an obvious fact, that I couldn't stay. Seeing her so in tune with the setting, with her life, and I myself being so lost (as usual), particularly in a place I once called home, while strangely placating in the sense that I saw where I belonged (or at least where I didn't belong), at the same time totally wigged me out. So, after another song, after watching her thank the audience and noticing some of her nervousness issue forth in the slight shaking of her legs, I made my exit.

It was better this way, I thought, as our relationship, like most of the one's I've had, didn't end well. While it wasn't particularly hairy, at least compared to some of the others, it was by no means a smooth parting. And it was all my fault. The thing was, when we first got together, I was already seeing someone else. This other person was a girl named after a Neil Diamond song from Texas who looked like Pamela Anderson. While we got along pretty well, our entire relationship was based purely on sex. But it was good sex. Really good sex. It was like being with a stripper, or a porn star. I mean, like right out of a movie. First the oral, then missionary, then she's on top, then I'm behind her, then I cum on her back and lick it off. No, no, no, not that last part. Not even once. But all the other stuff.

I would have given it all up for Lita, however, but I didn't for one simple reason: she was planning to move back to California. The times we'd run into each other - at the park and at the party - she had been on break from school, and in a matter of weeks she was heading back to Arcadia to study acting. Why, I thought, should I break up with my porn star girlfriend - shallow as our relationship was - only to be alone?

But then, things changed. Instead of going to California, Lita decided to stay in Portland. She said that she'd never really explored it before, never had someone to explore it with, and now that she had, she didn't want to leave. Why should she go to the California suburbs to study something she didn't want to study anymore, when all she wanted to do was play her music? So she stayed. And she obviously kept up with her music.

Now, not to toot my own horn, but don't you think I deserve some credit in this scenario? I mean, if it hadn't been for me, she would have gone back to school, and it's doubtless she would have achieved her current level of success. Right? In fact, her entire life might have turned out differently. She probably wouldn't have married that dude, and for all we know could have tried to make it as an actor, failed, and ended up a cosmetologist somewhere in Northern California. I'm due some props here, I think. Or, more probably, it was once again fate's master plan, how we had to meet so she would stay in the city where she belonged. It wasn't that we were meant to be together; I was simply supposed to keep her in Portland. As cheesy at that sounds, I can't help but believe it.

But what was my point in all this?

Right. My point was that our relationship didn't end very well, as I kept seeing the other girl, which was a shitty thing to do all around (and incredibly difficult besides); until it wore me out, and I lost them both. While time has a way of healing things, of softening the sharp edges, the last thing I wanted to do was re-open old wounds. So I split mid-show.

This seemed appropriate somehow, wandering into the life one once had, gazing at the girl one once loved from the back of a large room, and just watching her, remembering, and then slowly fading away. It was a perfect movie ending for a perfectly movie-like time in my life, if that makes any sense.

So after walking backwards through the club, and stifling a strong desire to yell out her name, I jumped in my brother's car and rode back to his house, where he and his friends were having a party. After drinking a tremendous amount of beers, as well as jamming with the band there and flirting with an assortment of Portland Betties, I made my way to my brother's room and passed out. I was leaving the next day, and even though I'd be returning to my present jobless, directionless chaos, I was glad to be going. Somehow, despite the uncertainty I faced, the fast-paced, hipper-than-thou, terminal pressure cooker that is New York, I knew I belonged there.

At least more so than in fucking Oregon.

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[email protected] | May 2001 | Issue 14