Drivers heading east across the Burnside Bridge can spot the city's quirkiest commercial installation, a billboard with two cutesy-pie characters, a large blocky cat and a toaster-shaped mouse, holding an orange banner decorated with a chevron and a star. Those symbols offer the only clue that the sign is an advertisement for the Converse shoe company. The artwork, created by local self-taught artist Trish Grantham, was posted in April on top the Shleifer Furniture Warehouse (224 SE 2nd Ave.) as part of a regional Converse ad campaign of "street art." Grantham says she received few instructions along with the $3,000 commission, but when her painting was enlarged to the size of a four-story high billboard, her signature was also enlarged to an attention-drawing size. "They asked me to put my name on there," the artist says. "All the billboards have the artist's name on them. I didn't know it was going to [appear to] be an ad for me." How's that for corporate sponsorship?
"Brains for dinner, brains for lunch, brains for breakfast, brains for brunch!" The Brain-eaters would have a field day at the Oregon Health & Science University Brain Bank (3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Road, 494-6923). Home to more than 1,500 brains frozen or immersed in formalin, this collection would satisfy the most voracious undead or prolific Dr. Frankenstein. The bank is one of only a handful in the nation and specializes in older brains-or "vintage," if you're the discerning zombie-type. Good luck trying to get one for your weekend barbecue: You have to fill out reams of forms just to get a bite-sized piece of gray matter.
"Wait, it's got one more setting," says Sandra Kambel, co-owner of the Southeast Portland vintage shop Deco to Disco (1960 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 736-3326), as she adjusts a circa-1950 electric bottom massager called "The Slim Form." Amid an array of "gently used" furniture, housewares and art, you'll also find many inconceivable gifts. At this former wig shop (with the perfect address), you may also find a container for shot glasses and a decanter that doubles as a bowling-ball-shaped music box. "You just lift the decanter," Kambel laughs, "and the music starts to play." Deco to disco, hiccup, indeed.
K&F Coffee (2706 SE 26th Ave., 238-2547) offers the usual menu of espresso, drip, bagels and pastries. More surprising is the large selection of really cheap costume jewelry. Made in a variety of Asian countries, the jewelry is eclectic and whimsical. Often the flowery, tropical-looking sets include earrings, necklace and bracelet for $15 or under. Cleveland High students are particularly addicted. Most popular this summer? The sparkly cocktail rings, starting at $2.50, and huge gypsy hoop earrings for around $10. Past steals were $3 bracelets featuring cops in a variety of manly poses like getting on a motorcycle and cuffing suspects. Eat your heart out, Erik Estrada.
Did you know the good people of Goodwill have their very own bookstore? Unlike the mega-thrift-chain's other shops, this one is dedicated entirely to time-worn tomes. Located off the beaten-collectible track in Hillsboro (2920 SW 234th Ave., 649-7934), this is where book collectors and enthusiasts can gawk over one of Oregon's best collections of famous first editions as well as hard-to-find children's books from the 1920s and '30s. There are plenty of cool and cheap finds (Elvis' Live in Las Vegas program, circa 1970, $20; 50 Ways of Serving Cream of Wheat, $15) as well as expensive ones (Mushrooms in Their Natural Habitat, a two-volume collection from 1949 that comes with a View-Master reel and slides of 3D images of mushrooms, will set you back a mere $1,300). The store is open 7:30 am-4 pm weekdays, or you can scan through titles on the easy-to-use website (www.goodwillbooks.com). "We only have about 40,000 books," says bookshop employee Paula Simon, compared to the 300,000 new and used books in stock at Powell's Beaverton store.
What do you do with 300 pounds of books that won't sell? In Portland, you put them on the street and let the rabble sort them out. On the sidewalk of Southeast Main Street between 8th and 9th avenues, four giant boxes of books-all marked "trash"-sit in wait for local bookworms and cut-and-paste art fiends to plunder their riches. Gems like Enough with the Lovemaking and Price Controls lie in piles next to microwave cookbooks and discarded packs of Camels. But not for long-one box, just a week on the street, is near-empty and the others will likely join it soon.
So you think you're pretty handy around the house? Think D, I and Y are your middle initials? Betcha don't make your own toothpaste. Learn how in Making Stuff and Doing Things: A collection of DIY guides to doing just about everything (Microcosm Publishing, $10). Topics range from DIY home repairs to DIY birth control, from "How to Make a Valuable Stash-Safe Out of an 8-track Cassette" to "The Solar-Powered Composting Toilet." Publisher and Portland resident Joe Biel thinks Portlanders are natural do-it-yourselfers. "That's partially due to having such high unemployment for so long," he says. "But I think they also just really want to learn where things come from. People naturally want to get to the root of things." Editor Kyle Bravo chose Biel's Portland publishing house, Microcosm, to turn his DIY-think into ink because Microcosm embraces a word many other publishing houses refuse to print: Copyleft. Biel says, "Copyleft is a creative commons license. It means these are things that people are free to use in their own creative endeavors. If someone wants to take a line from an article, they're free to use it as long as it's not for profit." So if you want to DIY your own DIY book, feel free to borrow from Bravo's.
Attention to detail, creative flair and the upside-down carving of a double-D nude out front aren't the only things that distinguish Pearsons Art Gallery (20890 S Highway 99E, Oregon City, 266-2334) from the rest of the chainsaw art gang. This burly group of artists-men whose favorite sculpting tool is gas-powered and capable of hacking off a body part-gets props for speed, too. It took the Pearsons team just one week to carve the formidable 12-foot-tall spruce elk that rears its head on display in front of their store. "Chainsaws are quick," says gallery manager Mike Privatsky. And so is the Pearsons' crew's wit: When a refrigerated-trucking company was in need of the perfect mascot, Pearsons crafted a life-size likeness of a polar bear sitting on a toilet. Privatsky recalls with a chuckle, "Their motto was 'Cooler than polar-bear shit.'"
It's safe and easy to expose your inner geek in Portland-just as long as you stick to hip subjects like microbreweries and mountain biking. But what of the true dweeb's need to discuss the latest Macintosh rumors and coding trends? For them, Dan Weston helped found the biweekly Nerd Breakfast Club (rotating locations; see www.nerdbreakfast.com for details) in 1988. Since then, transient nerds and Weston's old programming friends alike have been meeting at 7 am to hold discussions that occasionally erupt into frenzied scribblings of mathematical theorems on napkins. The group's lopsided gender ratio, Weston insists, is "not by design. But we are nerds, so women might find our conversations pretty boring." As if.
Have fun with your artistic ambitions via PDX inventor Craig Strong's Lensbabies (453-4451, www.lensbabies.com). These funky accordion SLR camera lenses ($96-$150) bring life into a new focus by creating a fuzzy appearance around your subject matter (a.k.a. the "sweet spot"). All you have to do is bend and compress the flexible lens attachment. Try out one of these babies if faced with a star sighting of such luminaries as Tonya Harding or Courtney Taylor-Taylor-Taylor. It will give that "moment" an inspired yet edgy flare. And, hey, it might even make you some moola.
Whether it's dealing with hunger pains or pain-in-the-ass hair, the good folks at Escapade Salon (4219 NE Hancock St., 493-1620; 1008 SW Morrison St., 274-9674) handle it like pros-more like professional assistants, actually. If you're in need of waxing, extensions or a basic haircut all before your wedding tomorrow or when you get off work at 3 am, no sweat. They can even arrange for transportation. How about a shower or a glass of wine? Those are available, too. If you can imagine it, they'll find a way to help out while you get pampered from head to toe. In their fifth year of business, Escapade has developed a diverse clientele whose requests know no bounds.
NoPo residents now have no excuse to neglect that pesky list of home maintenance and remodeling tasks. The North Portland Tool Library (2209 N Schofield St., 823-0209) supplies the neighborhood with free use of more than 250 different tools along with organizing free weekend construction workshops. Open Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm in the basement of the historic Kenton Firehouse, the tool library depends on donations to grow its collection. Having recently landed another grant for tools, co-founder Matt Moritz exalts the library's motto: Power tools to the people!
While drinking the blood of Christ appeals to some religious folk, another congregation of followers shows devotion in a way that's a bit more catholic in its taste. The Portland chapter of the Church of Craft meets once a month at Rimsky-Korsakoffee House (707 SE 12th Ave., www.churchofcraft.org) to mingle and learn to be artsy. There's no collection plate and little, if any preaching. But there's plenty of knitting and decoupage. As Minister Diane Gilleland (the group's ordained spiritual leader/head crafter) sees it, the Church is a way for people of all stripes and ages to come together and renew themselves through creativity. And popsicle sticks.
Let's face it, environmental groups too often sell out or become infested by BS-prone, just-doing-this-to-get-laid lightweights. That's why Bark (bark-out.org), a group dedicated to curbing logging in the Mount Hood National Forest, is so refreshing. Founded in 1996, Bark has remained grass-roots, volunteer-oriented and genuine, focused more on action and education than self-promotion. It has also had some success in turning back bad timber cuts. Catch the Barkers' show on cable access, or better yet, go join them on the second Sunday of every month when they go hike timber cuts in person-non-members welcome.
After last November's election, every secular liberal in America (including much of Portland, where John Kerry scored a vote percentage usually reserved for sub-Saharan dictators) freaked out. Evangelicals! They're comin' to get ya! The Christian Right no doubt cracked celebratory near-beers. Meanwhile, beneath the placid surface of the evangelical movement, much is stirring. Portland-naturally-is a hotbed of the so-called "emergent" church, a super-loose movement of (mostly) younger evangelicals who (mostly) emphasize community and social activism over right-wingery. One local example: Evergreen (evergreenlife.org), a church so non-trad that it holds Sunday services at the Multnomah Village's Lucky Lab Pub. Pastor Bob Heinz is a refugee from the mega-church world, where he found too many congregations more interested in buying rad sound systems than the Word. "The church I was at before, their goal is 10,000 people," Heinz says. "What's the point? It shouldn't be about how many people you can pack into a building." Amen.