ALEX SPARKS

How to Live in Portland

FICTION

You've noticed that it rains here. That's okay, you like the rain. Don't use an umbrella–if you do, people might think you're a tourist. Not that there's anything wrong with being a tourist, but you're local damn it, and everyone should know. So throw on a jacket and deal with it. Pull your hood over your man bun and embrace the rain with a smile on your face. You could even brave the downpour with no jacket at all, instead sporting your Poison Idea t-shirt and a rain-boner (the rain-boner in this case is metaphorical; you are not literally erect, simply excited). No one mistakes you for a tourist in that get-up.

Being local comes with a price–and that price includes a carbon fiber, fixed-gear bike. Purchase the leather saddle, the multicolored grip tape, and the flashy gold tires (they're actually yellow). Discover that the best thing about rolling on two wheels is the freedom that comes with it; you can run stop signs and red lights, split lanes during rush hour, and even draft behind cars when the opportunity arises. When someone honks, give ‘em the finger and growl.

Portland is the “craft brew capital of the world, ” so naturally you discover the joys of drinking beer. Drink lots and lots of it. Drink IPAs, IRAs, porters, amber ales, scotch ales, barley wines, ciders, stouts–you name it. Show off your knowledge at your local grocery store by discussing IBUs and “hoppiness ” with the cashier. Better yet, brew your own beer. Better still, start an illegal moonshine distillery in your basement. It'll taste like 120 proof gasoline.

Brunch is a hangover's best friend. Choose the spots with the longest waits and the smallest seating areas because they're the best. Order a cocktail with your omelet–in fact, order two–it is Sunday, and you have nowhere important to be. Become such a regular at your favorite brunch place, a trendy little restaurant called Tastebuddies, that the owner offers you a job as a server.

To fit in with your new coworkers, grow a beard and wear glasses. Go vegan and–this is important–make sure everyone knows it. Cover your bike in stickers that say, “Animals are friends, not food! ” and “Don't fuck with me, I'm vegan. ” Remove that spendy leather seat and replace it with a pleather one. You'll discover that the best part about being vegan is that you can compensate for the drop in calories with… you guessed it! Beer, baby.

Put a Bernie Sanders sign up in your apartment window for which the rent is preposterously high. Listen to obscure Portlandbased indie bands–Ralph and the Rainy Boys, the Burnside Bums, and a group known simply as Piss–and do so exclusively on vinyl. Get a tattoo of a cow stabbing Ronald McDonald to death, showcasing your vegan pride. Discover that you've become a “needle junkie ” and quickly return for more ink. After a string of impulse tattoos, including a poorly thought-out caricature of a butt-naked Harry Potter brandishing his “wand ”, you cool your jets. But it's too late. Move out of your apartment and into your parents' house because you blew your rent money on records and tattoos. No worries–your dad is a fellow beer enthusiast and you two decide to start your own brewing company. Call it “You've got Ale! ” Your mom doesn't think it's as clever as you do.

Your homebrews aren't great, but that's fine. They're a work in progress. Drink a few of them, paint your dick blue, and participate in the naked bike ride. On your way out, your buddy calls and tells you that his wheel has gotten bent in an encounter with a car door, and he asks if you have room for one more. Being the good friend that you are, tell him yeah, you guess you can squeeze him on; the new pleather seat is pretty spacious. Hose that seat down afterwards.

Join an adult softball league. The weekend games offer an opportunity to have a few daytime beers with your teammates– plus, you played baseball in high school and so you're the star player. Become notorious for taunting opposing pitchers after you hit homeruns. Get kicked out of the league. You have a feeling they want you out because they can't compete with your talent, but they insist it's because you got hammered and pissed yourself at first base.

To make things worse, you get canned from Tastebuddies after an altercation with a customer. She says you threw blood on her after she ordered a bacon-wrapped steak; you say you didn't and anyway that item isn't even on the menu. She asks what is the red stuff all over her; you say it's only fake blood like in the movies, and get over it. She complains to the owner and the owner fires you on the spot. Throw some more fake blood at them both, tell them to face their food, and storm out. Realize in hindsight that it might be wise to stay out of the homebrews before work.

Your mom wonders if you're drinking too much and she tells you this. Acknowledge that you can see how she might think that, but assure her that it's not a problem. Nevertheless, ease off on the booze for the time being and go out in search of new employment. This, you find, is actually pretty difficult, since you can't use Tastebuddies as a reference. Finally, you land a job at a grungy hole-in-the-wall, Stevie's Terrific Diner (known by the locals as STDs). Quickly discover that nothing about Stevie or his diner is terrific.

During your fourth shift at STDs, Stevie approaches you as you're wiping down a table. “Buddy, ” he says to you (he calls everyone buddy so he doesn't have to remember names), “Don't ask why, but if a cop comes in, tell them I was here all day yesterday. Especially between seven and ten. ” Point out to him that you weren't even working yesterday. Then, despite Stevie's wishes and your best judgment, ask him why he needs you to vouch for him. This sparks a rant from Stevie–the gist of it being that he needs to trust his employees, and buddy, he just can't trust you, sorry buddy, you're being let go. He saunters off to talk to your coworker (well, ex-coworker) and you stand there, holding the dirty rag and wondering how you lost a job at the sleaziest restaurant in Portland.

Get home, throw on your favorite Piss record, and crack open a cold one (you and your dad drank all the homebrews, so now it's PBR). Drink it. Open another and drink that one. Flip the record and drink a third beer. Before you know it you've begun a solid week of binge drinking, the details of which are fuzzy. Recall waking up under the Hawthorne Bridge and immediately getting drunk again with a homeless man named Smokey. Recall returning to Tastebuddies and trying to fight your former manager. Recall jogging through downtown traffic with a rainboner (this time, it's exactly what it sounds like). Other parts you'll learn of later, like when you stumble home and wake your mom at three in the morning, explaining that you haven't been drinking, you're just very tired. She stays up the rest of the night, crying.

Your bender comes to an embarrassing conclusion when you get pulled over at 11am on Tuesday for Biking Under the Influence. As the cop dismounts from his own bike, you realize that this is your “rock bottom ”. He removes his sunglasses in that way only cops can, asks why your dick is painted blue, then says, “Never mind. Not the strangest thing I've seen today. ”

Your mom picks you up from the drunk tank and tells you that you need a shower. What she really means is that you need to get your shit together. Persuade Stevie to re-hire you at STDs. Kick the booze and start chain-smoking cigarettes instead–American Spirits because they're all natural and you value your health. Get bronchitis. Move to the ‘burbs in an effort to get away from the city that is slowly destroying you. Realize you hate the ‘burbs and move back in with your parents–they still love you. Plus, your dad is psyched to start brewing again.