Here’s this week’s episode of The Port City Chronicle, the continuing serial novel of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:
“I love those sneakers,” Tim said as we ran into Milagros jogging along the East Prom trail. “How much do they cost?”
“I’m not sure because they were given to me as a gift by this guy I started seeing. Something you never did, by the way.”
Tim looked at her blankly. “I picked your medications up for you yesterday.”
“That’s not a gift, I have to pay you back.”
“How about you pay it all back except $20.”
Then the shock passed and he processed what she’d said. “Who’s the guy?”
“Wyatt. You don’t know him.”
“What does he look like?”
He looked like a singer-songwriter in a band, the opposite of Tim.
“Maybe I should have let my hair grow,” Tim said, seeing the photo on Milagros’ Instagram. “The problem is it would upset my mother because it’s unbecoming to a middle-aged man.”
The contrast with Wyatt widened.
“You could still do it,” Milagros said, like maybe there was a ray of hope for Tim despite everything.
But he shook his head. “I’m not making any major life changes until we see what happens with Brexit. I’m still not entirely sure why Boris Johnson had to drop out of contention for prime minister. And now that he’s out, who is going to replace him -- Andrea Leadsom or Theresa May?”
This is what happens when you get sucked into the news. Thinking globally can be such a convenient distraction from real life, especially if you desperately need to make major life changes.
“What difference does it make to you?” Charles asked.
It’s true Tim doesn’t have many ties to the world economy but apparently he was still hanging on by a thread.
“I have a 401k,” he said defensively. “Not that it wasn’t losing money even before this happened. The government should pay me not to invest because whatever I invest in is going to go bad. I bring the whole economy down just by getting near the stock market.”
But Charles ignored him. He’s less interested in global news than in extremely local news, like other peoples’ private business.
“What kind of music is Wyatt into?” he asked Milagros. That was supposed to be code for whether he was good in bed.
“It’s hard to say. He does a little of everything really well with his own unique style.”
She played one of Wyatt’s songs.
“What do you think?”
Charles didn’t find it quite as orgasmic as she did. But Tim was even less impressed. “The less you have to write about the fewer chords you need to write it.”
Apparently it wasn’t exactly Captain Beefheart.
“Remember when we went to concerts together all the time?” he asked. Nostalgia can be just as strong a weapon as sex.
“Beach Slang, Crystal Canyon, The Fogcutters,” he recalled. “Remember the time we missed Walt Craven?”
Same as the sex, he wasn’t that slick with the nostalgia.
“He’s doing a show next Sunday,” Milagros said. “I’m going with Wyatt. You guys should come.”
Tim looked at us nervously.
“I don’t really want to see the Walt Craven show on Sunday. Do you guys agree?”
Nobody said anything.
“Or do you really not care?”
Ethan was texting. “It’s not so much that I don’t care. It’s more like a combination of I’m not really listening, I’m not really thinking about it, and I’m doing something else.”
Charles was undecided. On the one hand, Milagros was going to be there; on the other hand, so was Wyatt. But Tim mistakenly thought it had something to do with the actual music.
“I was starting to tell you earlier why I liked Lost on Liftoff better than Gouds Thumb,” he said to Charles. “You’ve got to hear them.”
He took a breath. “One sec, I forgot what I was going to say.”
Even for him it wasn’t easy to obsess about music under the circumstances.
“Whatever you were going to say is going to be the reason why I don’t want to hear them,” Charles said.
That brought Milagros to Tim’s defense at last. “Why don’t you go?”
“I’m too worried about everything,” he said. “Dallas, Clinton’s emails, Zika, opioid addiction, refugees. I can’t get organized.”
“Don’t forget the fact that you don’t have a job,” Charles reminded him.
But Milagros was still on Tim’s side.
“Remember that time we did an airbnb on Cliff Island? We sat in the garden behind the house and watched the sun rise over the water?”
It was a little too intimate for Charles.
“That could have been your life if you got a house there,” he said to Tim. “If you were just willing to shake a leg and get it.”
Tim snorted. “That’s not shaking a leg. That’s shaking every limb in your body.”
Milagros tried to make up for it by pointing out a cardinal singing beside the trail.
“She’s trying to find her mate,” Tim said.
Then another bird let loose and the cardinal stopped singing and cocked her head.
“She gave it a listen,” Tim said. “Hm. No, it’s not quite right.”
Fortunately for Milagros it flew away in a flash of color. Nobody was left except a pigeon strutting clumsily along the path looking for crumbs.
Charles tried to shoo it away with his foot but Tim stopped him.
“Look how beautiful its pattern is underneath. Pigeons are rarely so beautiful that you stop to notice them, but they are in fact legitimate birds.”
Milagros moved towards him and seemed to be about to hug him when Tim put his hand up.
“I just realized my device vibrated in my pants.”
It was his mother. While he answered, Milagros took off down the path on her run.
As Charles made known, he couldn’t believe Tim was such an idiot in every way, from Brexit to the house on Cliff Island to chasing off Milagros.
But Tim was unfazed.
“If you look at my life – not even that closely – it’s a lot better than yours,” he said.
Milagros had turned around to blow him a kiss from the top of the hill.