I’m winding through downtown Portland en route to scoop my sister from a grad school seminar. I’ve got the radio on and drone out as traffic crawls forward. Then a wizard appears on the sidewalk, making way through crowds of people. He’s a homeless man who cinches a purple comforter to his neck, this cover draping down like an old king’s robe. A wizard in disrepair. The purple is stained with big smears of brown. They clump and cling like lint. These textured splotches don’t look like dirt. They look like feces. Perhaps his own. Perhaps an animal’s.
The man is old, maybe sixty, but looks even older. His skin seems beaten but not browned from summer sun. His hairline forms a U-shaped rim. Locks along its edges grow long and white to match an unkempt beard. The hair dreads together not from care but rather disrepair. His cape billows at the bottom with each step. A purple cloak. I can’t see his clothing. Just this cover. And though he’s hustling down a busy sidewalk while wrapped in shit it seems I’m the only one who takes notice.
Traffic is slow. This is downtown and it’s rush hour. The car I drive lurches a few feet then stops. Lurch. Stop. Lurch. Stop. The wizard crosses a walkway behind me but then turns on the sidewalk. I’m glad to see he’s still hustling in the same direction as me. He moves unimpeded, faster than traffic, his shit-stained cape dragging to the ground. Past the sidewalk is a row of food carts. Korean BBQ is the only one I take note of. People stand in line for their food. They don’t notice the caped crusader cruising through their periphery. Maybe they do this by choice. Maybe the sight’s so common it doesn’t register.
This is the part of town Portlandia doesn’t show you. Keep Portland Weird doesn’t encompass human decay. The needles and piss jugs. The fecal reek of Burnside. The junkies who call you a fucking asshole when you don’t give them change. The woman wrapped in trash bags passed out at the bus stop. The people sleeping on the sidewalk, slowly stepping toward death. So many people dying in public. Dying in a manner that’s drawn out yet on a much shorter timeline than most. They occupy a separate but parallel dimension from the rest of us. Maybe that’s why we don’t notice them. We. Me. The people in their cars. At the food carts. The tourists here to Keep Portland Weird. Each carries on with their day as the shit-stained man passes them all unnoticed.
Atop a curbside trash can sits an open pink box. Voodoo Donuts. Tourists gobble their confections sprinkled in cereal or shaped like cocks. What they don’t eat they throw to the ground. In Portland the Voodoo is in sight of a homeless shelter and shares the block with what was once a porn theater. The traffic I’m in is blocks from there but still I see this pink Voodoo box flapped open on a trash can. Traffic rolls forward just as the caped man nears the donuts. I lose my line of sight with both him and the box. It seems he stops at this dinner tray because he doesn’t pop right back into sight but I don’t know. When he reemerges he seems to be empty-handed. He still double clutches the shit-smeared blanket around his neck. Maybe the box was empty. Maybe he tucked a treat into his outfit.
Traffic on the other side of the intersection fills the roadway. I wait so as to not block cars coming off the side street. Traffic clears but the SUV beside me doesn’t move. I look to my left and see the man in his purple blanket crossing before us. He doesn’t use the walkway but rather steps in an ambling but mostly diagonal path to the other side. I see his dirty skin, dirty hair, his shit-smeared cape draped around him. He’s across the road and I have to keep moving. I pull forward, peering in my rearview, but can’t find the man. I turn the corner to another busy road and see a Starbucks on an upcoming corner. People flit in and out of shops, wander down the streets, and traffic keeps moving. Somewhere, back there, the shit-stained man ambles on. Dimension adjacent. Destination unknown.