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November 21st, 2007 Byron Beck | Queer Window
 

Gravy Train Blues

Who are we giving thanks for, exactly?

     
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TERRY PORTER (LEFT) AND COACH NATE MCMILLAN
IMAGE: byron beck

I have a friend—well, I had a friend—who tends to toss off her most close-knit friendships like she does her fashionable clothes. She kicks her buds to the curb like a pair of pricey slingbacks when they no longer fit her.

It’s something I’ve never understood—until now.

I found myself thinking about lost friendships last Monday night, even though it should’ve been the last thing on my mind. That’s because I had a job to do. I was inside the Rose Garden, asked by the Portland Trail Blazers—as I have been for several seasons—to dole out heaping helpings of turkey at their 12th annual “Harvest Dinner,” which the Blazers do with Project Homeless Connect. It’s a chance to provide hot Thanksgiving-style meals to the homeless and less fortunate souls.

I love doing this. But this year was different.

With former Blazer giants Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth and Terry Porter literally looming over my head, I should’ve had my mind on the game in front of me. But it kept drifting back to that discarded friendship. That’s because I was having another realization. The smiling faces I was staring at…I mean serving…were ones I actually recognized. These weren’t the faceless homeless folks I read about in the paper. These were folks that I recognized from my own North Portland neighborhood, people I ride the bus with; some were friends I’d lost touch with over the years. I even saw Sister Paula, one of the world’s most recognizable drag queens/televangelists—and I don’t think she was there to perform. “It’s a real blessing for me,” says the good sister. “Unconditional giving means unconditional love.” I didn’t interview these people; that wasn’t my job that day. I was too busy serving up slices of prefab turkey. Yum.

When I first started helping out at this event years ago, I thought most of the attendees, like me, just wanted to meet the Blazers. I was wrong. These folks were, and still are, hungry. On any given night, 3,500 people will face homelessness in Portland. This Rose Quarter crowd was just grateful for the opportunity to sit down to a free meal, whether a ball player served it to them or not. Last year’s Harvest Dinner served nearly 6,000 people. This year served about 5,000.

As you go about your holiday-fueled business over the next several weeks, try to remember your friends. Not the ones who are going to serve you your next glass of two-buck Chuck that you’ll later puke up at your umpteenth elegant soiree, or the ones who’ll pass you the stuffing at that dinner you were dreading having to attend in the first place. No, I’m talking about your other friends. The ones you think you no longer need. The fact is, whether you’ve taken the time to realize it, they may need you—and it’s high time you held up your part of that friendship.

Yeah, it sounds a little bit “Kumbaya”-ish (which, by the way, was composed in Portland in the ’30s), but if each of us did our part to help our “friends,” then I think we would all have a lot more to be grateful for.


HELP OUT: Need friends? Check out WW’s annual Give!Guide to find groups who could use your help.
 
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