Stressed? Let Rojo the therapy llama calm you down. Rojo looks like an enormous living, breathing stuffed animal, calmly standing still while throngs of children reach to pet his red coat. Rojo is smaller than a horse and larger than a Great Dane, with a stature that will neither intimidate nor be crushed by adoring fans. Even before Rojo was certified as a therapy animal, people knew there was something special about this llama: Rojo won Grand Champion at the Oregon State Fair in the category of Public Relations. Rojo's handler, Shannon Gregory, went through the paces with him to become the first llama therapy team ever certified by DoveLewis Animal Hospital. These days Rojo visits children's hospitals and senior communities, and regularly appears at parades around the Northwest. You can visit Rojo—a llama with a business card and a website (rojothellama.com)—for $15 per hour or $20 for a half-hour session if you have special needs, or just wait for him to greet his public at the next parade. ROXANNE MACMANUS.
Best Amateur Strippers*
It's been widely reported that Portland has more strip clubs per capita than any other city in the U.S. But for anyone strapped for cash, there are a few unlikely places where you can see two scrawny dudes strip to nothing but their skivvies while undulating to a sex jam called "Magic Light." Ladies and gents, welcome to a Wampire show.
"I think it happened on our first tour late last year," says 22-year-old Rocky Tinder—one-third of Wampire (the third one doesn't strip)—about the decision to take his pants off in public. "We collectively decided to freak the fuck out as much as possible at every show to really leave an impression on people, and the result was ripping our clothes off in conjunction to a song that more or less glorifies 'doin' it.' It seemed like the obvious thing to do."
Since then, Wampire has grown to become one of Portland's up-and-coming bands, placing fifth in WW's 2010 Best New Band poll and preparing to release a new full-length in early 2011. For now, Tinder is more than happy to share his ideal stripping location. "That's an easy one," he says. "Your mom's house." MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
Let's start with a hell-raiser: You may never have heard of
but that's because you probably don't pay much attention to the inner workings of the healthcare business. That's OK; the Lund Report is watching the docs and the businessmen behind them on our behalf. Founder Diane Lund-Muzikant founded the now-folded
; its board of directors forced her out in 2006. Their loss—the Report has become a heavy hitter in the coverage of the multitrillion-dollar industry.
Our favorite single-subject blog of the moment is Beard Revue (beardrevue.com), the outlet of Portland designer Michael Buchino's fascination with all things facial hair. Every day brings more beard news, beard whimsy and beard art—Buchino even curated an exhibition of the latter at the Tribute Gallery in April.
Given the city's love of nude dancers, it's a little surprising we haven't had a good stripper blogger—until now. "Kat," an itinerant dancer who got her start at the Sugar Shack—a club with a Tweety Bird mural in its private dance room—has been recording her thoughts on stripping and strippers since July 2009. She's smart and funny, and her blog, Kat Like Meow (katstories.tumblr.com) is almost certainly NSFW.
We've long been fans of Community Warehouse, a nonprofit that distributes household goods to families in need, and the Estate Store (3969 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.), where donated housewares are sold to fund CW. But we had no idea the shop's blog would become one of the funniest and strangest in our daily rotation. The Estate Store's Virtual Storefront (estatestore.org) draws you in with daily posts with photos of new merchandise, but it's the dirty jokes and bizarre narratives involving a cast of ceramic animals that keep you coming back. BEN WATERHOUSE.
Best Bad Guys*
Imperial Stormtroopers invaded Portland last month, marching in tight formation right down the middle of Broadway—blasters at the ready, white plastic hoods gleaming—fending off hugs from small children and amorous advances from drunk women at the Rose Festival Starlight Parade. These are the kind of intergalactic dangers the Cloud City Garrison, Oregon and Southwest Washington's official cadre of "movie-quality" costumed Star Wars villains (cloudcitygarrison.com), has faced since it formed in 2003. Every event it attends is a fundraiser for kid-centric charities like Toys for Tots and the Children's Miracle Network, whether the group is menacing shoppers at local comic-book stores, patrolling the Springfield mayor's office or shadowing Lord Vader at an Albany Costco.
Nearly half of the 50-plus computer techs, police officers, business owners, military vets and other fans who make up CCG—itself part of the international 501st Legion of Stormtroopers group—live in the Portland-Vancouver area. Each spends $500 to $1,000 to cobble together his or her own custom armor, mostly from incredibly detailed costume kits created by artists within the 501st Legion organization itself and not available to civilians (a movie-quality Vader costume costs up to $2,500). Cloud City Garrison boasts three Vaders (one lives in Beaverton) and three Boba Fetts—plus a motley crew of TIE Pilots, Clone Troopers and a lady Sith Lord.
"Oh, the smiles we get! The kids love it. People love it," gushes CCG commanding officer Allan Quick, who runs a pool-cleaning service in Eugene. "We do our poses and we take our binders—handcuffs—and arrest people. Some yell, 'Vader, I want to be force-choked!' They love it for pictures."
Not that the life of an Imperial stooge is always so gratifying: "When you're locked in Stormtrooper armor, you cannot sit down. If you eat something big before a troop, you're gonna be hating life, " says Quick, whose wife, Karyn, often dons a less hazardous Princess Leia costume for CCG events, authentic right down to the aluminum belt buckle and bun hairdo.
"A lot of people tease and say, 'Hey, you live in your mom's basement?'" Quick says, acknowledging the group's obsessively nerdy credentials. "They don't joke about it anymore when they realize how much good we're doing." KELLY CLARKE.
Best (Giant, Slightly Horrifying) Smile
When nobody in the world has a smile for you, know that you can always drive east on Northeast Glisan Street and be simultaneously comforted and terrified by a set of grimacing teeth befitting Falkor hovering near the corner of 69th Avenue. Those monstrous choppers, set in a pair of vivid pink plastic gums, belong to Eui Young Suk, owner of the ABC Denture Center (9234 NE Glisan St., 254-4823). The soft-spoken South Korean denturist commissioned the hyper-real sign, which features a huge photo of a pair of dentures, to "show people what I do here." He's been making false choppers for the toothless of outer Northeast Portland for almost 15 years—taking nearly a week to hand mold, sculpt and polish each individual set (around $1,400 a pop) in a small office cluttered with bags of plaster, magazines and a polished wood clock in the shape of a molar. He doesn't think his giant teeth are scary. "Sometimes I get a call at 2 or 3 am about the sign…. It is usually some drunk man from the bar next door," he says with a grin of his own. "You see, the sign lights up at night." KELLY CLARKE.
Best Resurrected County Mascot
the new mascot of Multnomah County. Well, not entirely new: Forty years ago, he existed in the form of an unsettlingly brawny cartoon man in a guidebook, bent on educating the public about various county services. After he was unearthed during a recent tour of county records, Tara Bowen-Biggs, communications coordinator at the county chair's office, decided it was high time to raise him from the dead. But Multnomah County in 2010 is working on its website redesign, not producing guidebooks, so it needed someone "who would be cuddly and friendly (and photogenic and portable)," wrote Bowen-Biggs. Public Affairs settled on
His mission? To "raise awareness," says Bowen-Biggs. "Unless you work at the county, it's hard to know what exactly it is we do." Multy accompanies employees to be photographed, Flat Stanley-style, at county places and events, such as last month's Pride Parade. If you see him, be sure to say hello. CAITLIN MCCARTHY.
Best Big-Top Betties*
It's a man's world in the circus, but at
the ladies are the ringmasters. The all-female collective stages all-ages shows with aerialists, hula hoopers, trapeze dancers, jugglers, contortionists, clowns, a strongwoman and more. "Of course there's the sexy in there, but it's not the only point," said co-founder and fire performer Shireen Press. "We get so many comments about how empowering it is." Partnering with members of A-WOL Dance Collective, Do Jump!, Night Flight, the Circus Project and other local groups, Artemis has established itself as a showcase for performers whose talents and grace deserve a better venue than Dante's. "We show off the strength and beauty of women," says Press. "We wanted to come up with a showcase that wasn't the kind of burlesque you usually see around here." AP KRYZA.
Best Portland Pride
New Yorkers have the iconic "I Love NY" T-shirt, but Portlanders take their affection for the Rose City a little deeper. In some circles, permanently inking the Blazers logo or a cubist portrait of the Steel Bridge into your skin is a rite of passage, which makes the selection of a best Portland tattoo a heated showdown. Barely edging out a homemade stick 'n' poke that reads simply "MT TABOR" is Nickey Robare's paean to that ultimate symbol of Portland generosity, the Benson Bubbler. Robare got the tattoo in 2009 as a way of commemorating her seven-year love affair with the city. As a "radical teetotaler," she also appreciates the history of the fountains themselves, which were commissioned by Simon Benson in 1912 so his lumber workers would drink water instead of whiskey on their breaks. "Portlanders, especially when I'm not in Portland, get really excited about it," Robare says. "It's like a secret code." CAITLIN GIDDINGS.
Not all hauntings are ephemeral.
—the quaintly preserved, brightly colored "jewel of Jantzen Beach" on Portland's Hayden Island—reportedly had its horses carved by the inmates of Leavenworth penitentiary in 1921 (how spooky). Sighting after sighting, all equally unconfirmed, place
in the merry-go-round's twirling center: playing games, perhaps, or forlornly awaiting purgatory. Toddlers, even, report seeing them—innocents who we assume have not previously heard the stories. Parents post middlebrow-creepy tales on the Internet.
the last relic of Hayden Island's past as the burgeoning Coney Island of the West before being flooded, then razed and flipped into a many-acred shopping complex. The mall—its Brutalist concrete water-stained beneath the outdoor signage—is now an eerily, continually uninhabited expanse of beige tile, the corporate equivalent of De Chirico's paintings of metaphysical Italian plazas, a fading culture's optimism echoing uselessly—yes, hauntingly—in the vast, empty spaces where people were meant to go. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.