The World Elephant

The World Elephant
The World Elephant

When I first came to Portland, I remember being absolutely in love with this mural. It seemed so strange to me, so random and wonderful and amazing, that I used to navigate using it as a reference for the first few months. (In a way, my vision of PDX still has this at the center of town.)

One of my favorite details of this mural was the ledge about 1/5 of the way up from the bottom. (In this image, its subtly noticeable, just above my head.) There were a few different bird’s nests that have been made there, and if you were willing to stop and watch for a few minutes, you would invariably see the birds walking along it, getting read to take off, or feeding it’s young. It was really wonderful to watch, and it always reminded me of the symbiotic birds that live on (and clean) elephants in the wild. Like a weird, symbolic nature scene for the city folk who never got to see the real thing.

I used to talk about taking a picture of this mural all the time, but over the years my technological backwardness (combined with poor planning on my part) never managed to resolve themselves in time. Recently, they began construction or this building, remolding and expanding it, and ultimately cutting a bunch of windows through this mural, making it difficult to look at.

For a while I was totally pissed that I’d missed my chance, that this particular element of the city was now forever locked away in my memory, where it would slowly fade to a nostalgic feeling every so often, one that tugs at the heartstrings but fails to register completely in the conscious mind. It was sort of a bummer, when you get right down to it.

And then I got an e-mail from my roommate, The Ramen City Kid. “Did I ever send this to you?” was all the accompanying message said, and suddenly it hit me: quite a while ago, as we were wandering around town one day, I was talking about wanting to take a picture of it. Again. And in one of the coolest and most meaningful moments of our friendship, he pulled out his camera and said, “Okay. Let’s do it.”

It was so casual and of-the-moment that I didn’t think anything of it when he took the picture. And, since he forgot about it, I forgot about it. And since construction began shortly afterward, the sight of the mural actually being destroyed a little every day began to eliminate it’s presence in my mind, too. I was convinced I would never see it again, even though in the back of my mind I imagined that I could probably track down a picture of it somewhere, someday, somehow.

I just had no idea I would only have to look inside my own house. Thanks man. You are the greatest roommate, ever.

That Guy

I became That Guy so gradually that it’s really hard to say when, exactly, the transformation began. My question always becomes: which warning signs predate the others? In Cathead, we used to play a song called “Old Man Blues.” But then there’s reading about Grandpa Punk in Ramen City U.S.A., and my High School-aged Grumpy Old Man impersonations… when I was 13 my favorite song was “Kids” from Bye Bye Birdie.

It just goes on and on like that.

Anyway, now that the change is complete, I can at least help you with some of the tell-tale signs that you have become That Guy:

1.) Carries possessions in a cloth grocery bag instead of something more useful.

2.) Apparel includes: frayed fingerless gloves, bow ties, used-car-salesman jacket & bowling shoes one size too big.

3.) Oftentimes, primary mission on errands seems to involve the Public Library or buying fruits & vegetables. (Double Points if I combine them into one, unnecesarily elaborate mission.)

4.) iPod playlist includes: Miles Davis, Old-Time Radio recordings from the 40’s, & NPR Podcasts.

5.) Can generally be found (during the daytime) waiting for a bus and complaining in a sort of Yosemite Sam kind of way about The Weather and The Traffic. Or both.

Currently Reading:


Shade, The Changing Man
Shade, The Changing Man

Originally created in the 70’s by Steve Ditko, this revival began in 1990 and ran for six years, until the writer (Peter Milligan) finished all 70 issues. Along the way he utilized a lot of different artists to fit each particular chapter of Shade’s story; as “The Changing Man” Shade is constantly becomming someone new, and as each style shifts and changes, new artists take over. (Very similar to the way The Invisibles was written & drawn four years later.)

Half psycedellic free-for-all, half adventure, and entirely strange from start to finish, this series is the story of how Shade came to Earth from his home planet, Meta. (Yeah. It gets better.) Meta exists in a dimension near (or around?) Earth; between Earth & Meta lies The Madness Zone, the only place that allows passage between the dimensions.

Shade is sent by his superior, Wizor, who had told him to fight the manifestations of “Madness on Earth” in whatever way he can. Apparently, The Madness Zone has begun to leak into Earth’s dimension, and so Shade must combat the leak using a Madness-Vest (or M-Vest for short).

On Earth, when humans catch “The Madness,” their internal obsessions and frustrations are externalized. In the first major story, a JFK obsessed man creates a “Kennedy Spinx” in Dealy Plaza, that asks people, “Who Shot JFK?” If they are wrong, the Spinx eats them. In the second major storyline, Hollywood itself catches the Madness, and soon everyone finds themselves in a movie, within a movie, within a movie, ad infinitum. As Shade travels the Mental States Of American, he runs into huge American Myths that must be kept in check in order to prevent Americans from going crazy. Did I mention Peter Milligan is an English Writer, too?

I fell in love with this series when I was in High School, as it sparked the imagination like few other things I read back then. Now, over 15 years after I first discovered the comic, it reads so vividly and beautifully that it’s hard to imagine it as a “dated” piece of writing. In much the same way that Ditko’s Shade held up pretty well to me in 1990, here in the far-distant time of 2009, those innocent Comics from my High School years carry an impressive amount of punch.

I have all 70 issues of the 90’s run if anyone wants to borrow them, and the 8 original issues of the Ditko series. Neither were “popular” in the usual sense of the word, but for my money, there are few comics that are as well written (or as academically “funny”) as Shade. It’s well worth the read, even for non-Comics fans.