Bar Star District, Portland, 2 am.
We’re standing in front of the Shanghai Tunnel restaurant, which just closed, in search of post-black light party food. We are four, dressed entirely in white, two women, two men. I am wearing a white jalabya and shal. Muslim prayer garments. I am not Muslim, yet I pray.
Across the pedestrianized street, a man with a megaphone insists that everyone present “be somewhere else,” for the bars are shutting down, and it is time to go. Police cars grace every block. Tickets are issued, and drunk people are yelling. To our right, incoherent insults fly over the shoulder of a small man with a beard. On our left, two very large black men turn heads, and then bodies, toward the source. In three steps they have gained enough momentum to not be stopped by streetcar or police lights, let alone small white people. We are leaving now.
I have been the target of such anger, and been projected upon by those who did not know what to do with their feelings.
Fact: there are a greater number of negative feelings in human emotion than positive.
Many people do not know how to articulate negativity. Like sub-genres of music undeserving of the stereotypes associated with their more popular counterparts, feelings like sadness and fear can be translated easily into hate and violence. So can excessive levels of lead in one’s blood.
We walk briskly, brushing by homeless men digging in trash cans and scantily dressed women crying their sorrows on the shoulders of men who do not respect them. I am wearing sunglasses because here, I’d rather be anonymous. I do not recognize the looks I’m receiving from people in the Voodoo Doughnuts line. A police officer holds my gaze for three eternal seconds until somebody in high heels pukes at his feet.
I am impressed by Portland’s ugliness. She is rolling on her back, scarred belly exposed, wanting attention. Begging to be loved, like the woman crying to the man wearing his erection and history of sexual abuse on his sleeve. He’s saying all the right things while his hand on her ass is in the driver’s seat, popping the clutch.
The others in my group decide this place is not a Yes, and that we should go home. Marai, our Egyptian friend, offers to make traditional North African food when we arrive. “This is a yes,” he says when he finds something interesting. “And everything is interesting when you have no expectations, because you cannot be disappointed.”
As my troupe crossed Burnside, a brown-skinned man in an Escalade stuck his head out of the window, looked me directly in the eye, and said “Osama? I didn’t know you were in town, buddy!”
My new friend can teach me much, for my disappointment in humanity is huge right now. I have no trust in it. I expected better, I expected more. It baffles me that people spend as much time, energy, and money on things that make them angry and numb. Alcohol and self-hatred. I am confused by the lack of learning, and by the stagnancy so many live by. If reaching out in a certain direction ends with your hand stuck in the mouth of a hungry shark, why look that way again? And again, and again? Does the Unknown not contain the possibility of Better? Are we all aware that there is Better?
And what is that Better? Holding on to what we have because the good moments are great, though the bad moments hurt like broken bricks and dry ice dropped from a second-story window?
My compassion eclipses my judgement. I do not exclude myself from those who hold their hope over violent flames waiting for it to freeze. I enable suffering in myself and those I love. I manufacture conflict from expectation, and am hurt when others do the same to me. Sometimes, right when I think that I’ve got myself together, someone shows me all the context that I’ve missed, and how I’ve betrayed them. As much as I’d like to think of how I’ve refined myself to get along best with me, the alphabet streets do not ask for my permission to hide beneath misdirection, to express their pain, or to inflict others with it. I simply wish that they wouldn’t.