Capture or Asylum

Chuck Palahniuk's Fugitives and Refugees 10 Years Later.

In junior high, they give you To Kill a Mockingbird. In high school, it's The Catcher in the Rye. In Texas, we presume, they give you a Bible and a gun. In Portland, sooner or later most new arrivals are handed a slim, smudgy volume that looks to have been stained by coffee and burnt by cigarettes. It is adorned on its front by an ominous gang of bleary-eyed Santas.

Chuck Palahniuk's Fugitives and Refugees was published on July 8, 2003—10 years ago this Monday. It's a travel guide to a Portland that no longer exists, a calico mutt of misfit humanity that was dispersing even as its pages were written.

But transience is the book's essential virtue: It does not describe a Portland you are expected to visit. It's instead a lens by which to see the Portland before you today, a compendium of the oddball and fringe and by-the-wayside that has become central to how our city understands itself.

Unlike the Portlandia television series—or myriad proper guidebooks—Fugitives treats its subjects not with shallow bemusement but with humane generosity, plus a touch of sadness that it will all pass unnoticed.

Palahniuk may always be best known as the author of Fight Club, but in this city, Fugitives has touched the broadest range of people. I carried it around for a month while researching this article, prompting a succession of strangers to meekly approach.

"That is the best book," they say.

He almost didn't write it. Originally, Palahniuk declined Crown Publishing's offer to write a hometown travel guide. "I was on deadline for another book," Palahniuk tells WW from his home in the Columbia Gorge, where he moved for solitude in 2005 after the death of his mother. "I said, 'If you pay me what you paid Michael Cunningham [for Land's End, a guide to Provincetown, Mass.], I'll do it.' Michael had a book called The Hours out, and it was the biggest thing in the world for that year."

Guides generally become obsolete the moment they are written. Cunningham's book is now out of print, alongside every other guide in the series except one: Fugitives and Refugees.

In part this is because Fugitives and Refugees is the closest Palahniuk, whose fans are known for their cultish devotion, has come to autobiography; he chronicles his life of muggings and fleeting ecstasies in a series of "postcards." Yet most who read it are not part of the cult of Chuck. The book endures because it is more than a curio cabinet of "secret Portland." In its loving attention to quixotic toy museums, sex clubs and feral cat colonies, Fugitives grants our city the dignity of a shared mythology.

"Over the 10 years it's lived on our shelves," says Michal Drannen of Powell's City of Books, "its sales velocity doesn't appear to be diminishing." The book has been translated into Italian, Polish and Turkish, and still makes regular appearances on Powell's weekly bestseller list. Sales figures were not disclosed, but it's now in its 14th printing.

Portland is rightly celebrated for its food and cultural boom, its mecca status for the aimless college graduates who arrive here with scripts already written in their heads. But that comes at the expense of the improvisational, down-and-out Portland of the recent past.

"Monica [Drake] and I get together and mourn that city and that sense of possibility," says Palahniuk, "Satyricon and Fellini and those great old abandoned Portland warehouses where people could create art and have a space."

"On one level," says Palahniuk of Portland now, "it seems completely obliterated. We don't have these great old spaces and underused properties people could camp out in and make their art in. On the other hand, it seems like a fantastically young city, and I don't just say this because of my age now. These neighborhoods that used to be all aging hippies are now full of young people.

"Back then if you saw a young person, they would be an exception. You had to go to Beaverton to see young people."

But, of course, it's not all gone. Ten years later, WW checks in with the people and places in Fugitives and Refugees, to see if they've fled, passed or joined New Portland. Below, we bring you some of the more interesting bits. Here, we revisit each and every one, if only to tell you that, yes, the Grotto is still the Grotto.

Katherine Dunn

The phrase "fugitives and refugees" comes from another Portland writer, Katherine Dunn, the author of Geek Love (and former longtime WW staffer). Fugitives begins in her Northwest Portland living room, as she rolls cigarettes. Portland, she tells Palahniuk, is the cheapest city available to those who fled west from civilization, the "misfits of the misfits." The fugitives and refugees.

"I still feel kind of a remorse over Katherine Dunn," Palahniuk says. "I kind of insinuated myself into her apartment one afternoon. Basically I turned that conversation into fodder for a book, and she is such a private person. I've never really apologized to her for it."

Dunn declined to talk about Fugitives and Refugees, but she still lives in Northwest Portland. Palahniuk says the two of them are still in touch. In North Carolina, he came across a warehouse staffed by robots that do nothing but sort books. "I saw a whole semitrailer full of Geek Love that had never been touched by human hands," Palahniuk says. "She loved that."

Hippo Hardware

Ten years after Palahniuk's visit to the shop, pieces of Portland history still wash up at the Hippo Hardware antique and oddity shop on East Burnside Street: the original doorstop for The Oregonian offices, a kerosene-heated bathtub from a covered wagon, an ancient baby bath from the Albertina Kerr Nursery and a shower assembly from Pittock Mansion. There's also a straight-out-of-the-box 1963 combination salad shredder, cheese grater, dough hooker, juicer and kitchen sink like the one used on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

The same owners, Steven Miller and Stephen Oppenheim, still preside gleefully over the menagerie. In 2007, when the cast of MTV's Jackass came to defecate loudly in one of the disconnected toilets on the shop floor, Miller was in on the joke. He was the only one. He used the chance to punk his plumbing-section manager, who was publicly unamused. The Jackass producers bought the toilet, but Miller had to run across the street to stop the film crew from heaving the biohazard-filled porcelain into the dumpster of Michael's Italian Beef and Sausage Co. "What would I have told Michael?" Miller says. "That it didn't come from me?"


Ghosts got a lot of space in Palahniuk's book, but most of the ones he wrote about have seemingly moved on. The ghost at the North Portland Library hasn't been sighted since the old chapel across the street became the McMenamins Chapel Pub. Jay Lucas, night auditor of the Heathman Hotel, says he hasn't seen anything peculiar. Neither have the people we contacted at the Kmart on Northeast 122nd Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, at the Maryhill Museum of Art or around Cathedral Park. Meanwhile, the former Rose and Raindrop's restrooms are tucked within a closed branch of Northwest Bank, haunting only themselves.

Lydia, the Pied Cow Coffeehouse's ghost, is still around. But she's boring, says employee Zachary Schauer. He saw her, he says, "at the end of a really long shift. I just didn't give a shit and went upstairs.

"Several different people have seen her, and nothing really crazy has happened. It's a pretty typical young Catholic girl in a white dress kind of deal."

Kidd's Toy Museum

Former U.S. Air Force Capt. Frank Kidd, now 82 years old, still presides over a massive collection of antique toys and banks, railroad locks and beautiful die-cast models emblazoned with his name at the nigh-unmarked Kidd's Toy Museum at 1301 SE Grand Ave. He's also the landlord for Coava Coffee, right across the street.

But the museum's borders have receded, and much of Kidd's collection is stored in countless unseen tubs. And although Kidd still continues to buy whatever catches his eye, he remembers most vividly what he's lost. "I can't tell you what I've picked up in the past 10 years," he says, "but I can tell you every single thing I've compacted."

He was robbed twice in the past three years, once of $350,000 worth of toys stored at his daughter's home, and once of several gold coins in a smash-and-grab robbery at the museum, whose display cases Kidd has since fortified. The first thieves were caught. "The state sends me a check for $50 every now and then," he says, describing the meager restitution he receives. But the toys are gone. "Sometimes I see something that I know is mine, but why would they believe me?"

Still, he doesn't plan to move the toys to a new neighborhood: "Everything stays, that's the plan. They stay. I go."

Self-Cleaning House

Palahniuk visited the fiercely independent Frances Gabe, now age 98 and owner of more than 60 patents, including one for a home that could clean itself. Inside her self-cleaning concrete house in Newberg, everything was waterproofed, from plasticened paintings to watertight boxes storing books and valuables. The place was, essentially, a giant floor-to-ceiling dishwasher, with rotating water jets on the ceiling and floors gently sloped to drains.

At the time, there were free tours. No more. Gabe sold her home in 2008 and lives in a managed-care facility. Sterling Parker, the self-cleaning house's current owner, says most of the plumbing had been removed when he bought the property—although he wouldn't rule out the possibility of reinstalling it from memory if he thought there might be interest. He plans to use the property as a wintering habitat for honeybee colonies, and as a campground for long-distance cyclists.

Gateway to the Gayway

The four-story Club Portland, which was listed in Fugitives as Portland’s last gay bathhouse, turned out to be far from the last. The seamy, steamy standby stepped aside in 2007 to make room for McMenamins’ Crystal Hotel, whose website happily trumpets the building’s history as louche gambling den and gay playground. (Al’s Den, a bar and performance venue in the basement, is a bit less forthcoming about its past as a jack-off club called Zippers Down.)

SWING CLUB: The sling room at Steam Portland. According to a former employee, a “code brown” means you should probably get out of the bathhouse’s hot tub.

But two newer gay bathhouses have sprung up since Palahniuk wrote his book. The two-story Steam Portland on Northeast Sandy Boulevard is a decade old and features a nude sun deck, many video booths, a hot tub, steam bath and lounge. HawksPDX on Southeast Grand Avenue is a newer steam-roomed entrant in the inner east side: less porn, more glory holes, more theme parties and much more emphasis on the lounge space. As an added attraction, HIV-positive porn star Dice is on staff. Both clubs offer free HIV/STD testing several times a month. Each claims it is the only one in town to do so.

Portland Memorial

Sellwood’s massive apartment complex for the dead, the century-old Portland Memorial mausoleum in Sellwood, described in Fugitives as a place to get lost panic-stricken amid a labyrinth of monuments to the passed, is no longer open to the general public.

“I hope you take out some of the references he had about it being one of the best places to drop acid,” says David Schroeder, CEO of the local five-cemetery chain that now runs Wilhelm’s Portland Memorial Funeral Home. (Palahniuk had actually suggested reading a book there.)

“A number of people filming videos and doing strange things in there upset a lot of people, so they secured the mausoleum in 2008,” Schroeder says. “People only go in if they have a real reason to go.”

Palahniuk says it was a popular place for goth sex, and cites unconfirmed reports of suicides there: “It wasn’t good for business, obviously.” The Memorial (and the families whose relatives are stored there) apparently agreed, although the family-run mausoleum still offers organized tours of the historic crypts three times a year. The ranks of the dead have swelled from 58,000 in 2003 to more than 75,000 today. There is still room for perhaps a third of all Portlanders, should so many decide to go.


Darcelle XV

“I think some people would say I’m still telling the same jokes I did 10 years ago,” says Walter Cole, who has performed for 46 years as the wisecracking drag queen Darcelle XV. “But why change it if it works?” He’s been at his eponymous Old Town nightspot so long that three generations of family arrive together to see his show; meanwhile, his own son, Jay, works behind the bar.

Cole still makes his own costumes to become Darcelle XV, but no longer cleans the club’s restrooms as he did in Fugitives. “I’ve got other people to do that now,” he says. He’s had both knees replaced, and he doesn’t take any chances. “If they go out again,” he says, “that’s it.”

Even at age 82, Darcelle XV is onstage six or seven times a week. Cole says he won’t stop while he’s still kicking, that stopping work is what kills people. “My dream is, it happens in front of a packed house,” he says. “There will just be this pile of dust on the stage, and then they throw me out into the gutter and the show goes on without me.”

DEFLOWERING PORTLAND: A volunteer tears the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade down to its bits at the Northwest Industrial warehouse where floats are both made and destroyed.
IMAGE: Evan Johnson

The Death of the Rose Festival Floats

“I’ve been here 23 years,” says Kendra Comerford, vice president of the company that makes the Rose Festival floats. “I think one year they did it in the Rose Quarter.” That was the year, 1992, when Palahniuk happened across the carnage near the Lloyd Center shopping mall, and described headbangers blasting boom boxes and tearing the day-old parade floats to bits, crushing the wilting flowers.

Every subsequent year, the floats have been dismantled in a Northwest Industrial District warehouse (2448 NE Vaughn St.), the same place they were built by a team of volunteers. The number of floats has been dwindling since 2008, victims of the economy and perhaps a broader decline in corporate civics.

This year, on the morning of Monday, June 10, the workers’ music was private, blasting in earbuds. The Reser’s Fine Foods alligator, covered in artichoke leaves, has wounds in his shoulder that look to come from a massive shotgun blast. The Alaska Airlines bear’s left butt cheek is flung wide open to reveal a steering wheel within. On the floral parade floats, every visible surface must be organic, and so it is: seeds, flowers and grass. Cotton feels almost like cheating, but there it is on the bear, dyed taupe. The throne of the festival queen stands deflowered. The Oregonian’s float promises that every party begins with the O. The roadster float from Spokane, Wash., is a loaner meant for a paper parade, so its flowers are stripped to leave tinsel behind. And when it reaches Spokane, “the lilac city,” all of its own lilacs will be long since tilled into the soil.

Largest and Smallest Parks

It is an enduring Portland myth that we have both the largest and smallest city parks in the world—one Palahniuk repeated in his book, though he hedged by calling Forest Park the largest “municipal forested park,” ignoring the vast Saguaro cactus “forests” of Phoenix’s South Mountain Park, which is three times Forest Park’s size. But we no longer own the largest even with asterisks. Jefferson Memorial Forest in Louisville, Ky., connected three separate patches of forest in 2009 to surpass the contiguous area of Portland’s Forest Park by 1,000 acres.

DOPPELDOUGLAS: This tree at tiny Mill Ends Park is a replacement for one stolen this spring. The original tree, which was recovered, is now at Mount Tabor.
IMAGE: Evan Johnson

Our titleholder for smallest city park—the 2-foot-wide Mill Ends Park on Southwest Naito Parkway—is also under attack. Promoters in Britain this year petitioned Guinness World Records, saying that Mill Ends was not a park but a “glorified flower pot,” nominating instead Prince’s Park in Burntwood, England. They cited in particular Prince’s Park’s fence and bench. Portlanders responded by building a miniature fence and bench for Mill Ends, plus a soldier with a bazooka, presumably to keep the British out. The fence and armed forces have since been removed.

Jefferson Theatre

In January 2003, when Fugitives was in galleys, Jefferson Theatre owner Ray Billings, whose establishment showed porn movies, disappeared. He left behind a lawsuit, a pile of debts, a young Thai boyfriend and a half-finished Thai restaurant in Astoria. He returned in July 2005 as mysteriously as he’d left, to find $25,000 in his bank account. While he was gone, a lawyer had taken over Jefferson Theatre and nursed Billings’ affairs back to health. The theater lost its lease to the Portland Development Commission in 2007; tenants of the building's low-income Jefferson West Apartments were relocated in to a posh LEED-certified apartment building called the Jeffrey.

Billings, undeterred, packed up his porn and took it to the century-old Paris Theatre, across West Burnside Street from the adult bookstore pushed out of business by Commissioner Randy Leonard because it was a magnet for unseemly activity. (The bookstore’s property is now a village for the homeless, called “Right 2 Dream Too.”) Ray’s Paris Theatre offers a stage where couples can have sex in front of a crowd, plus a “perky exam table” and a “voyeuristic bedroom.”

But despite the many couples offerings, a recent visit finds a smattering of middle-aged men watching a massive projection of tattooed teenage girls being sloppily choked and slapped in the face. The men in the seats have their pants on and look nervous. The men standing in the aisles do not have their pants on, and look very comfortable.

As you enter, all faces—translucent in the pale pink flicker of the theater—look away from the interlocking figures on the screen and gaze hopefully, instead, on you. Perhaps you will be something new. Perhaps you will be interesting.

A Brief Bestiary

Bear season is over at the Dirty Duck Pub. The manly men now congregate at the “authentic, masculine” Eagle on North Lombard Street, which offers “Bearly Naked Billiards” on Thursdays. The historic Dirty Duck building in Old Town was demolished to make way for the kind mother hens at the new Blanchet House of Hospitality transitional shelter.

The Wildcats of Jeld-Wen Field

The Portland Beavers baseball team is gone, as are the cardboard-cutout “alley-cat races” that once graced the minor-league games. (The class-A Hillsboro Hops are now the area’s only pro baseball team.) But after a 2011 renovation required by Major League Soccer, the stadium’s feral cat colony remains. According to Ken Puckett of the Portland Timbers, staff moved the cats’ feeding stations bit by bit during the renovation, leading them to safer parts of the stadium, away from what is now the Timbers Army cheering section.

Between eight and 12 cats are still providing sterling rodent control: The team’s interest in the cats goes beyond preservation. The Timbers enlisted Karen Kraus of the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon to help place a small colony of cats with the stadium for renewed mousing. Don’t bring unloved domestic cats here, though: They won’t be accepted by the wild ones, and will be harmed or driven away.

Western Culinary Institute Amateur Lunch Hour

In 2003, one could go to the Western Culinary Institute cooking school for a $10, high-end, five-course meal at lunchtime. Reservation spots filled quickly with well-to-do cheapskates living in the West Hills. Those meals are gone, as is the school’s name: In 2010, Western was renamed Le Cordon Bleu. Western Culinary’s dime-store luxury restaurant was replaced with a restaurant called Technique, which serves $11 hot dogs topped with squid ink.

Technique is closed due to construction, and a voice recording promises that all phone calls will go unheeded, as “there is no one here to take your message.” Meanwhile, the school is facing a class-action lawsuit by former students claiming that aggressive salespeople promised the aspiring chefs jobs that did not exist.

NECKING: According to one 2007 study, up to 94 percent of giraffe sex is male-on-male. Riley and Bakari are no exception.
IMAGE: Evan Johnson

A Day at the Zoo

In 2003, Palahniuk profiled Jeb Barsh, a fascinatingly empathetic head elephant keeper who became famous in 2004 as the man who taught Rama, an elephant at the Oregon Zoo, how to paint with both brush and trunk. The paintings, spatters of trunk-blown abstraction and broad expressionist strokes, can sell for thousands. Barsh stepped away from elephants to the African Savanna exhibit in 2012, and declined to participate in this article.

The new head elephant keeper, Bob Lee, was described by Palahniuk as one of three “very big men.” He is still a big man, with the sturdiness, high-and-tight haircut and hunkered gait of a linebacker. He is helping teach Samudra, the zoo’s 4-year-old bull, how to be a man. “In order for him to see what it looks like to be a big male,” Lee says, “we put his dad, Tusko, out there with him. He’s learning how to treat ladies and be a good bull.” He apparently needs the help: He was afraid of his comparatively tiny 7-month-old sister, Lily, when he met her. “She started chasing him,” Lee says, “and he went into full sprint, looking over his shoulder and just roaring.”

Penguins: Mochica, the foot-fetishist penguin, is now a 20-year-old elder ambassador of the newly rehabbed penguinarium. He still loves shoes. He’s reportedly since humped the trademark cowboy boots of Gov. John Kitzhaber. He has also humped the shoes of the author of this article.

Sea otters: Thelma and Eddie, both described in Fugitives, are still at the zoo. Eddie is a creaky 15 years old and arthritic, so zookeepers trained him to dunk a mini-basketball to keep mobility in his front elbows, which gained him fleeting notoriety on YouTube. Eddie is known to zoo visitors for an entirely different habit, however, that zookeepers refer to politely as “self-reinforcing behavior.” It requires flexibility only certain mammals possess.

Giraffes: Zoo spokeswoman Krista Swan says she sometimes sees on Facebook accounts that people are excited to witness giraffes mating at the zoo. There’s a catch, however: Five-year-old Bakari and 8-year-old Riley are both males. Riley and Bakari like to nuzzle necks, and sometimes Riley will mount Bakari from behind. As we watch, Riley sticks his head below Bakari’s belly. “Oh,” says zookeeper Kristina Smith. “Riley likes to lick his pee, too. When Bakari’s peeing, he tastes it and then makes a funny face.”

Movie Madness

Six years after Palahniuk wrote about the motley display of Hollywood artifacts behind glass at Movie Madness video store on Southeast Belmont Street, a piece of his own history turned up at the store’s museum: the bar of soap that Brad Pitt held in the Fight Club movie poster.

MAKE IT A CLEAN FIGHT: At Movie Madness, Fight Club director David Fincher’s signature on the back of the famous soap bar can be seen in the mirror.
IMAGE: Evan Johnson

The bar was donated by the film’s director, David Fincher, whose sister Emily lives in Portland. “She brought the soap in,” says Movie Madness owner Mike Clark. “It’s been really cool to have that here.” In 2012, things moved in the other direction: A man broke into a case and biked away from the store with a filched Winchester rifle used by John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and a shotgun featured in The Wild Bunch.

In February, though, a man hiking through Mount Tabor found the guns in a garbage bag and returned them to the store. “I think what happened,” says Clark, “is that when he stole them, he thought he could make a quick buck. But he didn’t have the authenticity to go with that. So they just sat somewhere.” In the meantime, Clark has picked up pieces from his two favorite movies. The first was a chair Ingrid Bergman used in Casablanca. From Citizen Kane he got a Fu Dog, a Chinese lion statue meant for watchful protection.

It is, perhaps, best placed near the guns. Erick Duane Johnson, the man suspected of the original theft, is still at large.

Suicide Bridge

The Vista Bridge high above Southwest Jefferson Street, below which the city stretches out in dizzying panorama, remains a site for suicide—enough so that Mayor Charlie Hales asked the Bureau of Transportation to come up with a solution: barriers, assessed at a cost of $2.5 million. “If we can find that money,” Hales spokesman Dana Haynes told WW on June 6, “we think it’s a great idea.” In 2008, the U.S. Department of Transportation assessed the monetary value of a human life at $5.8 million.

YOU BETTER WATCH OUT: These Santas are still sober. The situation will be remedied very, very soon.
IMAGE: Morgan Green-Hopkins

A Confederacy of Santas

In 1996, Portland had its first Santacon, where Palahniuk was among hundreds of drunken people dressed as Santa facing down a wall of bullhorned police officers sworn to protect the sanctity of an urban shopping mall. So it was in the early days. In 2004, teams of transit police followed Santas on the newly forged MAX Yellow Line. In 2005, the Santas slow-crawled a van through downtown with fruitcake loaded onto a catapult. Police cars trailed it suspiciously. “If you don’t do one thing that has the potential to completely fall on its face and one thing that has the potential for mass arrests, you’ve failed,” says S.W. Conser, president of KBOO’s board of directors and a longtime Portland Cacophony Society organizer.

Lately, the drunken Santas have entered the mainstream. A company called Stumptown Crawlers piggybacked on the idea by staging a for-profit Santa crawl—popular with Beavertonians and Greshamites—that drew more than 1,000 Santas last year, according to organizers.

Meanwhile, North Portland Santas were barred from generally laid-back bars, including beloved pub Saraveza, and the Eater food blog made anti-Santa signs meant to be printed by area restaurants.

On June 29, a relatively tame and happy crew attended the Summer Santacon. The cadre of about 40 is more Burner than barnstormer. On an 84-degree day, the Santas hold a water-balloon fight in the park at the center of Ladd’s Addition. After the fight, they pick up every piece of water balloon—even though organizer Rich Mackin had made sure to buy biodegradable balloons.

When the group crashes a cast reunion for Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete & Pete, the cast members happily pull out their iPhones to film the Santas as they sing the show’s theme song very, very badly. The Santas then present them with “mutant” gifts—babies stabbed with Barbie legs and stuffed monkeys with hands where their genitals should be.

For seven hours, the drunken Santas go from bar to bar, carrying hooch in zipper bags, but the only flashing lights that greet them come from myriad camera flashes. As one summer Santa strolls by with hairy male butt cheeks clenching a red thong, a passerby stops to marvel.

“I guess Portland really is like the TV show,” he says.

Barge In

There’s only one thing Palahniuk says he wishes he’d added to Fugitives and Refugees: barge-launching ceremonies at Gunderson Marine on the Willamette in Northwest Portland.

“When I worked at Freightliner,” he says, “Gunderson was right across the river. You could call up and ask when it would be. They’d break a bottle over the barge and watch it splash down into the water.” Gunderson still launches between five and nine barges a year. The boats are up to 400 feet long and take up to six months to build. Hundreds of people sometimes come to watch a boat slide into the water.

DA BARGE: Kayleigh Taylor busts a Champagne bottle on the poetically named DT 216-7, which will carry wood chips.
IMAGE: Evan Johnson

On June 30, about 50 came to watch the launch of DT 216-7. According to Mark Eitzen, general manager of Gunderson Marine, their customer, Dunlap Towing Company, prefers to hold a larger ceremony at the company’s home in Puget Sound. It is a small boat, Eitzen says, only 250 feet long and meant to transport wood chips. Bagpipes, the traditional soundtrack to a barge launch, are played on an iPhone. The young woman enlisted to christen the barge with Champagne stifles a giggle when she completes the part of her speech that includes “God bless.” Before smashing the bottle, she holds it in front of the boat in midswing pantomime for the benefit of the cameras.

The cable is cut and the massive barge creaks against piles of wood for a few moments before the sudden shock of its fast slide into the water. It is accompanied by a tremendous sideways splash that seems dangerous; it’s like a 100-ton kid on a water slide. The barge takes with it a wreckage of the scrap wood that had held it aloft on the shoreline. Little boats tow floater lines around the scrap as the barge twists away from the shore. The scene looks for all the world like the Gulf of Mexico oil cleanup in miniature—a subtle reminder that Gunderson is one of the main parties involved in the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup that remains mired in negotiations.

The barge drifts awkwardly away, its course still not steady. 

Arts and culture intern Richard Grunert contributed to this story.

WWeek 2015

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