July 22nd, 2009 WW Editorial Staff | Special Section Stories
 

Best People

     
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Best Busker



Mr. Statue. Photo by Megan Holmes.

He has been pepper-sprayed, flashed and punched in the balls—and hasn’t flinched from any of it. Over the past 10 years, Wells Oviatt has earned a reputation around Portland. He’s the silver guy. The painted mime. Or, as he calls himself, Mr. Statue. By posing absolutely still outside Pioneer Place and Saturday Market with every inch of his exposed skin painted metallic silver, the San Francisco transplant attracts enough tips to support himself and his daughter on busking bucks alone.

Oviatt’s resemblance to a real statue is uncanny, but his act doesn’t convince all Portlanders. He says birds and dogs, the most notorious defilers of statues, aren’t fooled by his painted skin, “but people have sat on, grabbed and leaned on me. So animals are smarter than people.”

It takes the soft-spoken performer 20 minutes each day to cover his entire body in silver fabric paint, which comes off easily in the shower when his work is done. But the paint doesn’t just transform Oviatt’s appearance—it changes his personality. “I get more outgoing and confident while doing this,” he says.

And sitting cadaverously still isn’t Mr. Statue’s only self-empowering talent. The 35-year-old used to perform in a local clown band called Big Daddy Meatstraw that was managed by Voodoo Doughnut co-founder Tres Shannon. Oviatt also aspires to be a professional baker: “In a perfect world I could just do this on the side and get a baking job,” says Oviatt, who has been working to perfect his brownie recipe since the age of 8. Apparently the still life of Mr. Statue isn’t as monotonous as it seems. WHITNEY HAWKE.

Best Usher


If you attend any theater at all in this city, you’ve probably been handed a program by Kay Olsen. The Portland grandmother, a tiny figure who always wears a cloth cap, saw 264 plays, readings and operas here and in Dallas (her hometown) in the 2008-2009 season. For comparison’s sake, that’s about 200 more than I, a theater critic, attended. And Olsen volunteered, as a ticket-taker or usher, at almost all of those shows.

The Portland theater community is grateful to their greatest audience member, who was honored for her dedication to the art at the 2009 Drammy Awards. “Sometimes I think that Kay Olsen singlehandedly supports the entire theater community of Portland,” says Lawrence Howard, director of Portland Story Theater. “Kay’s the best audience member we have,” says Mary McDonald-Lewis, director of Readers Theatre Repertory. But Olsen admits that she doesn’t do it for the theaters’ benefit. “It’s all about me,” she says.

Her suggestions for less-frequent theatergoers? “I like Leif [Norby],” she says. “I like everything Third Rail [Repertory Theatre] does, and I’m as excited about Portland Playhouse as I was when Third Rail started.” BEN WATERHOUSE.

Best Pair of Poets



Michael and Matthew Dickman.

Local poets and identical twin brothers Matthew and Michael Dickman, born and raised in Lents, amid mini marts and Gypsy Jokers, have been getting a lot of press lately. Michael’s first book, The End of the West, was published this year by Copper Canyon Press, and Matthew recently received the Kay Tufts Discovery Award for his first collection, All-American Poem, but the brothers have received as much attention for the novelty of their twinness as for their poetry—including joint profiles in both Poets Writers and The New Yorker in the past year.

Though they appreciate the publicity, Matthew says, “We didn’t come to poetry as a twin shtick, so there’s no reason now to pair ourselves.” Indeed, there’s little in their poetry to suggest these two writers are related. Both touch on similar themes, including familial relationships and a celebration of the mundane, but that is where the resemblance ends. Michael’s writing is visceral; he turns an unblinking eye on the unpolished edges of his world. Each word in his poems seems to be picked with care, lending the writing a sparse, cerebral quality. Matthew’s poems are often a rapid-fire blur of images, exuberant love letters to various people, places and things. For a Portlander, Matthew’s poems are a series of small revelations, as familiar parks or local sights are described with both love and regret.

Matthew says that Portland, the place where he first discovered poetry, is one of the great things that he shares with his brother. Michael talks of Portland’s “mythical childhood qualities.” Having grown up in this city, he says, “the rain, the trees, the streets, the neighborhoods are all burned very deep into my mind. No matter where I live...it is these memories that find their way into my writing.” MARIANNA HANE WILES.

Best Canine Containment


Chains belong in bedrooms and on biker jackets, but not on dogs, according to Portland-based Fences for Fido (fencesforfido.org), a new nonprofit working to free dogs from the immobility, pain and tendency for aggression that come with spending their days tied up with chain. Fences for Fido’s volunteers have, so far, given two Rose City pups a new lease on life with a fence, dog house, grooming session and the option of a reduced-cost spay or neuter.

Seeing a dog run with joy keeps Fences for Fido chairwoman Andrea Kozil looking to the next barricade. “Families learn they can create a much more fulfilling and meaningful bond with their dog with a fence,” Kozil says. Keith Lamb, who received a fence for his lab mix, Chopper, agrees. “Now that the fence is up, we can barbecue in the yard, throw the ball and not worry about him running into traffic; it’s been great,” he says. The group hopes to contain one dog per month this year and even more as it establishes itself—leaving plenty of Fidos free to frolic. HEATHER MORSE.

Best Singing Telegram Service



Josh Killingsworth. Photo by Mike Perrault.

A man holding a dozen red roses and belting out an operatic birthday song to another man surrounded by a herd of his billiard buddies may look like the payoff of one too many pints at the bar, but for Josh Killingsworth, it’s just another day at work. Killingsworth is founder and owner of A Rose and a Song, Portland’s only professional, classically inclined singing telegram company(516-7797, aroseandasong.com).

The classically trained musician, who has performed in 14 countries and sung with the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Diane Schuur, is unfazed by the embarrassing nature of his trade. “It is especially gratifying for me to make someone who is embarrassed from the beginning even more embarrassed throughout the song,” he says. “I take it as a personal challenge, and really step up the theatrics and the volume.” While he’s got a sense of humor about recipients’ reactions, Killingsworth’s priority is to deliver a meaningful musical experience. His company’s tagline, “delivering joy, one song at a time,” is representative of his broader sense of duty to share his positive attitude with his customers.

Since Killingsworth’s recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, optimism has been his salvation. Symptoms like numbness, lack of coordination and foot drop caused too much strain for him to continue his restaurant job. On a bad day, he says, “it can take me 10 minutes to put my shoes on.” But Killingsworth, not to be subdued, took his lemons and made lemonade, fusing his love of singing with work that is easy on his body—not to mention easy on the ears. “I had worked at a restaurant where I was the house opera singer for birthdays and anniversaries,” Killingsworth explains, “so I am very comfortable walking into an unfamiliar place and belting out a song to the embarrassed recipient.”

When he’s not serenading in Portland, Killingsworth teaches learning-disabled kids at the Lindamood-Bell center in Seattle. He takes pride in both of his jobs, saying, “It fits nicely into my ‘try to make the world happier, healthier and more friendly’ goal.” Killingsworth’s rates start at $74.95, and rise with the addition of more roses, violinists or a vocal quartet. EMILY JENSEN.

Best Transsexual Owl



Julio. Photo by Mike Perrault.

It was an honest mistake. But still, what a tragedy to misunderstand so grievously the ones you love. Julio the Great Horned Owl, the most famous resident of the Audubon Society’s Wildlife Care Center in Forest Park, has turned out to be a ladyfeather. This is, as you might have guessed by her name, a somewhat recent discovery.

When Julio arrived in 2005, much too pampered by the people who’d raised her to ever survive in the wild—and more to the point, much too convinced she was one of us—she was presumed male. An owl’s sex parts are tucked quite demurely inside the body, and so Julio, like most owls, was sexed by weight. Males are smaller, females bigger, and Julio was smaller, therefore male. In the meantime, thousands of Portlanders adopted her, made regular pilgrimages to her cage, sported “Julio the Owl” buttons, even blogged Julio videos. She’d become something of a mascot, if animal centers have animals as mascots. But about a year ago—on a whim, really—the center sent a drop of Julio’s blood off to the lab, and Julio was discovered to be a rather petite lady owl.

As you might expect, the adjustment was rather harder on her keepers and admirers than it was on Julio herself, who had never been part of the conversation. There was a faction, for example, who wanted to rename Julio something gender-appropriate—Julia, say—presumably to avoid confusing the poor owl about her gender identity. But according to Karen Munday, an urban wildlife specialist at the center, “we were all too attached to ‘Julio.’” Besides, it’s the same old Julio—“Juliet” would have been a pretentious affectation, a preening sexual strut. And so, in the tradition of James King and Matthew McConaughey, Julio now carries a traditionally masculine name while being in all other respects female. Easiest sex change ever. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Best Advocate for Low-Income Tenants


Elisa Aguilera would probably reject the idea she should be singled out for praise for the work she does on behalf of low-income tenants in Oregon. As a co-director of the 13-year-old Portland-based Community Alliance of Tenants, Aguilera works closely with a handful of other dedicated employees advocating for renters’ rights and affordable housing in the state. That includes the alliance’s other co-director, Ari Rapkin, not to mention the nonprofit’s board of directors (made up of tenants, just like the people they serve). Without them, the alliance’s mission would be far less powerful. It’s true.

But it’s precisely because she wouldn’t want to be singled out that Aguilera and her organization are worthy of special attention.

During the 2009 legislative session that just wrapped up at the end of June, the alliance promoted two successful measures that speak to both the group’s effectiveness and the need for its work during difficult economic times. On June 24, Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed Senate Bill 952, which gives tenants more rights in the event their apartment buildings face foreclosure. Also, starting next year, tenants who have lived in a unit for at least one year will be given two months instead of one to vacate their apartments if they’re issued a no-cause eviction, the equivalent in landlord-tenant law of a “Dear John” letter.

Aguilera, 28, was raised in Southern Oregon and attended Portland State University. She knows the law on what landlords can and cannot do so well one might think she had aspirations of becoming a lawyer. But that would be a mistake; Aguilera is happy just where she is. “It is hard work,” she says. “But it’s work I find meaningful.” BETH SLOVIC.

Best Poverty Fighter


Donna Beegle is a fighter, and she’s in our corner in the fight to end poverty. Born into generational poverty and raised, thanks to lack of work and evictions, all over the West, Beegle married a migrant worker at the age of 15. At 17, she was a mother. And by 25 she was a single mother of two living on welfare and food stamps. Now, at the age of 48, Beegle serves as one of the nation’s leading icons in the fight against poverty. For eight years, Beegle was a professor at Portland State University, where she earned her doctorate in 2000. Now she is the founder of a new nonprofit, PovertyBridge, which builds personal relationships between people in poverty and people who aren’t, and who can help them emerge from poverty. Beegle has worked with Portland’s policy makers to benefit people of poverty. “Institutional roadblocks for upward mobility out of poverty are generally policies that punish people for their poverty conditions,” says Beegle. “We just have to fight the poverty, not the people who live in it.” WHITNEY HAWKE.

Best Future Superstar



Max Records

In three months, Max Records is going to be Hollywood’s next hip thing. Even now, he can be seen in trailers for Where the Wild Things Are(opening Oct. 16), riding on the shoulders of monsters to the tune of the Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” But for the moment, the 11-year-old remains anonymous in the Overlook neighborhood where he lives with his parents—his dad is the acclaimed art photographer Shawn Records. The Records family doesn’t want their elementary-school star talking to local media; “it’s paramount that we try to keep things as normal as possible for his day-to-day life,” Shawn says. Director Spike Jonze, who adapted the movie from the Maurice Sendak book, says Max’s upbringing was the key to his performance. “[G]rowing up with your dad always with a camera in hand you become used to having your picture taken and not even thinking about it,” Jonze wrote on the Wild Things website, “so Max is very unselfconscious in front of the camera.” AARON MESH.

Best Tabloid Journalist


When you look at a rack of tabloids in the grocery store, do you ever wonder what sicko thought up stories like “Grandma Turns Pet Dog Inside Out Looking for Lost Lottery Ticket,” “Cult Uses Human Heads for Bowling Balls” or “Rabid Nun Infects Entire Convent”? Well, the answer is Portland resident Tom D’Antoni. The bearded and bespectacled D’Antoni wrote for The Sun—a national tabloid rag—while living in Baltimore in the mid-’80s, earning $25 for each salacious story he wrote. Plus another $10 if the story went on the cover.

D’Antoni describes the experience as being “fun at the beginning because it was a status symbol,” but the job quickly became a morbidly depressing gig. “I would get up in the morning and think of the worst things I could think of. Sometimes it would upset me so much I had to leave the house,” he says. D’Antoni compares the world of tabloids to so-called “professional” wrestling. The vast majority of people know it’s bullshit, but some kooks believe every bit of it without question.

Now a radio host on Portland’s KMHD 89.1 FM, a blogger for The Huffington Post and a freelance journalist for The Oregonian, D’Antoni has become a player in Portland’s local media scene. He’s tossed tabloid writing aside for now to focus on other projects, including one he says he “can’t even talk about yet, but will have a major impact on journalists in Portland.” So long as you don’t plan on using our heads for bowling balls, Tom. WHITNEY HAWKE.

Best One-Armed Man Who Didn’t Kill Your Wife



Lefty. Photo by Megan Holmes.

Portland’s most famous street musicians are known not so much for their prowess as for the ostentatiousness of their presentation, from the body hair jumping out of Elvis’ jumpsuit (the better to complement his blunt open-chord hammering) to the near-jaw-dropping visual verisimilitude of Portland’s version of Jimi Hendrix. But Lefty the One-Armed Guitarist (his mom calls him Richard Gismondi, he said) is an exception; he’s got some unlikely chops. Although he lost his right arm almost a decade ago to a shower accident at the YMCA—or, more specifically, to the pursuant case of gangrene—he managed to retrain himself to play guitar by putting together a makeshift “arm” out of an electrical conduit, a sponge, a soda bottle and an intimidating mess of clear tape. “I pretty much just bang with this hammer now,” he said, while having a drink on the patio of Captain Ankeny’s after a long day’s set at his Skidmore Fountain post during the Saturday Market (on other days he’s usually found on Southwest 10th Avenue, across from the Central Library). His playing—rooted largely in blues—is nonetheless more skilled than most guitarists could hope for even with a full complement of fingers. After all, he’s been playing the guitar for over 40 years, aside from a short disheartened hiatus immediately after he lost his arm. Still, not everyone’s a fan. The owner of Ankeny’s took a moment out of his day to warn Lefty against driving away his business by playing on the sidewalk in front of the bar, even though this was largely an empty—and counterproductive—threat. “Well,” said Lefty. “I guess now I’m going to have to play.” You see, Portland’s extremely lax stance on busking means musicians can set up shop wherever they like, so long as it’s at least 6 feet away from a business property and not overly disruptive. Admission to Lefty’s performances is 100 percent free seven days a week, but donations are, of course, strongly suggested. MATT KORFHAGE.
Below: A video former WW contributor Jason Simms recorded with Lefty for English, Baby

Best (Looking) Local Publishers


Rhonda Hughes and Kate Sage of Hawthorne Books (1221 SW 10th Ave., Suite 408, 231-1441, hawthornebooks.com) launched their Portland publishing house (mostly fiction with a bit o’ nonfiction) in 2001. Since then they’ve published 20-plus titles, including Clown Girl by Monica Drake, The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips and The Tsar’s Dwarf by Peter H. Fogtdal. Not only are their books, designed by local firm Pinch, smart and hot, so are Hughes and Sage—which is probably why, when lit star Russell Banks came to town for Wordstock a few years back, he beelined for a long, wine-soaked, bacchanalian feast with the two book babes. Banks’ other option: fondle his Kindle in his hotel room. Take that, Kindle! LIZ CRAIN.
 
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