Artist
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Writing And Thoughts

Garden of concrete

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An acidic longing bubbles from below when the sound of the city is faint. A spectre of loneliness pokes me from afar with long and wretched fingers while I stare bored out of my window and fantasize of the sleek women shopping, the heartbroken homeless, and the beetle like businessmen of Downtown weaving around each other, stirring together endless noises and smells. I turn my attention to this absurd specter poking at me, it stops briefly, but then starts to push me towards my desire of downtown Portland. I quickly grab a handful of quarters, throw a book and water bottle in my backpack, and strap my camera around my neck. There is no need for me to check when the bus is coming. I don’t need to know it’s arrival, plus it’s better to wait outside at the bus stop than in my house staring out of my window, so I casually walk to the stop and wait.

When the bus arrives I compulsively scan the windows to get an idea of where to sit. I could sit next to a cute girl and potentially end up with a date later in the week, I could sit next to a homeless man and end up with a new, exciting perspective on politics, or I could sit by myself and quietly observe the poignant white noise culminating from the music buzzing from tiny earbuds; the shallow and submersed chatter of couples; and the turning and shifting of bodies to see the drama outside of the bus windows, or to just stay comfortable. The bus driver greets me with a nod as I pour 5 dollars worth of quarters into the pay slot, and work my way to the back of the bus to sit by myself. I can see that the bus driver is calm, he makes all of his turns and stops with a passionate precision, and the ride is smooth and enjoyable, enabling me to view the passing people and city with full attention. Traffic is low, so we glide downtown without any trouble.

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The smell of cinnamon and cigarettes wafts through the bus door when it opens to the view of a homeless man slumped against a pale marble building. It’s around 2:00pm and an empty 40oz. bottle of malt liquor rests between the knees of his dirty, holey jeans. I merge with the crowd of business people, tourists, and bourgeois walking past, ignoring this helpless man, and start toward pioneer square. I snap a picture of an elderly man puffing on a cigarette next to a young runner just before crossing the street to the square, and like divine guardians there stands three balding white men holding signs with religious propaganda. They reach their hands out as if to accept my toll to enter the square, but hand me a small booklet with a picture of a white Jesus in front. I nod and stuff the booklet into my pocket, and walk to the top of the elevated area which look over the lower east area of the square. I sit at a bench and watch people pour out of the MAX stops. They appear to bounce and glide in different directions, reminding me of when I was a child and played pool with friends, and we would throw the balls around and watch them click and ricochet into random pockets. I pull out a book and read for a while, and the drone of social energy and movement helps me get lost in my novel. I stay content and absorbed, only looking up towards sharp sounds like screeching brakes, or the disordered shout of a schizophrenic. The garden of different people, and the sounds, smells, and feels they all bring to downtown Portland give me a feeling of vigor simply by being part of it.

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As someone of mixed race, and who has grown up in a predominantly white inner city Portland, I am aware of our cities lack of diversity--not only in race, but also class. Still, I find naturally that downtown Portland is a prime place to find a thicker mixture of different races, cultures, classes and genders all interconnected and interacting. I feel that the diversity of downtown Portland, even though far from perfect, is something that we should be proud of, and should support. By saying this, I don’t mean that we should be proud of the contrast and what that brings; that is to say, we shouldn’t be proud of our homeless population in contrast to our upper class, nor the drug addicts contrasted to those sober, or minority races to white folks. But, we should simply be proud that all of these people, with all of what they bring, are here, and have the potential to grow and cooperate. The opposite paradigm, and what I believe to be the general paradigm of our present age, is that of shame. We are ashamed of what minorities (I don’t only mean racial minorities) bring, thus we reduce, ignore, and even ostracize them, without trying to understand and support their humanity. In my opinion Portland is a paradise, from its dynamic weather to its dramatic landscape; but just like a garden filled with only one flower, Portland would seem dull without a range of very different people inhabiting it. People wouldn’t enjoy Portland's rose garden nearly as much if there was only one color rose.

Armin RadfordComment