Salem, Oregon is an awful place. Anyone who tells you otherwise has either never lived here or has ten children they are trying to shelter from the real world. For Christ’s sake, Salem is one of two towns in the entire country which actually has a city ordinance on the books making it illegal for a theater to sell tickets to an R-rated film to someone under the age of 18. I mean it, world leaders: you should nuke this shithole.
But, for those of us who are left to rot here, we must develop our coping mechanisms. Mine is a heavy drinking problem. It’s taken some time to find adequate watering holes in which to drown my sorrows. Most bars around here have serious problems: they are either devoid of class and ambience, or they close at midnight on a Friday, or they have piss poor beer and spirits selection, or they are frequented by assholes who never escaped the orbit of their fraternity. But, there is a small handful which I have found worthy of getting me drunk.
Brown’s Towne is a good place to be to begin the night. They slow down and close too early, but that’s why you start the night and don’t end it there. They have a great selection of Ninkasi brews on tap, and stock a good selection of spirits. Their burgers aren’t half bad either if you need some ballast before you start your binge. Lately they have been hosting a lot of good live entertainment Friday and Saturday nights as well. Most recently, I enjoyed a show by a band called Faerabella.
Faerabella describes themselves as a gypsy steampunk jazz band. I’m not sure what makes them steampunk, other than that their two male members (the stand-up bassist and the horn player) wear wide brimmed hats with aviator’s goggles on the side-band of the hat. Nevertheless, their music was fantastic. Their lead singer, a lovely woman with golden tones and range like a sniper rifle, knocked it out of the park. My scrotum bunched up with fear and exhilaration while she was singing a ballad about stabbing her husband to death. Dark and brutal stuff. Well worth a listen. I’m told you can find them on the iTunes Store.
They are also great sports. The entire time I was there, our mutual friend Geoffrey Queen – the man who invited me to the show, in fact – was screaming at the top of his lungs, “I slept with everyone in the band, and they all have huge dicks!” Yes, Geoffrey Queen (pronounced “joff-rey”) is in fact a queen. And proud to flaunt it, bless the man. A heavy drinker after my own heart and a true friend. I had recently started dating his good friend Bev and was a bit enamored with her, which brought him no end of delight. This was a feeling he expressed repeatedly while I was there that night, as he couldn’t remember anything that happened more than five minutes previous at any point. Five times, he touched my nipple and said, “Seriously, I just love you. But don’t worry; I’m not trying to fuck you.”
Eventually he passed out at the table and a huge bull dyke in his circle of friends had to drive him home. I was left waiting at a table where I knew nobody drinking Ninkasi IPA for an hour waiting for Bev to return from an evening in Portland. Eventually a strange person with massive mutton chops and a Windsor cap engaged me in conversation. He was wearing a vest and dress shirt – really going for the anachronistic British look. Right down to his teeth, which seemed to be rotting out of his skull. Nevertheless, he was perfectly pleasant. He related to me how he worked for a private custodial and maintenance firm here in town which now does all the work on state buildings which the state will no longer pay its own workers to do. He went on to tell me how most state buildings in Salem are in horrible repair and on the verge of collapse. One, he said, had so many cracks in its foundation that it looked like cobwebs.
Just when I was started to get bored of the man, my lady friend showed up and rescued me. It was ten o’clock. Time to move onto Venti’s, the traditional second stop of the night…
Venti’s downtown location is delightful. Upstairs is a café which by day serves the most delicious food around. I heartily recommend their chicken teriyaki with vegetables and noodles. Downstairs is where the real party is at though, in their dimly lit basement bar. The space is small and always packed every Friday and Saturday night, but the atmosphere and music selection leaves nothing else to be desired. They have a list of taps offering microbrews from all over the Northwest and beyond, and – to my great delight – they refuse to serve any domestic beers. The selection is superb, and their spirits top notch. They even offer some of those that are harder to find at other bars, like those from the Rogue Distillery in Newport, Oregon. Try their Spruce Gin or you, dear Constant Reader, are patently un-American.
An alternate second or third stop of the night in Salem’s downtown district is Gilgamesh. This tap house offers a beautiful selection of beers and wine, and hosts live performances on a regular basis. I was there one evening recently with Upton Charles, Bev, Geoffrey Queen and some mutual friends. I was minding my own business and enjoying a Hopscotch, which is so fucking delicious it makes me proud to be part Scottish. Geoffrey was busy showing his driver’s license to another group of strange twenty-something women (no doubt trying to recruit more “bitches” or “wives” to his ever-growing harem), attempting to convince them that his last name really was Queen. Upton was getting solidly drunk off of his sixth Vader, which is a rich dark beer with an espresso flavor – I also heartily recommend this one.
While we were patronizing Gilgamesh that night, there was a one-man show going on: described as a ukulele thrash performance. I meant to pay more attention to the man as he head banged and violently strummed his little instrument on stage, as I had been planning to write it up as part of this series of venue and entertainment reviews. But by the time he was getting warmed up I was already drunk. I don’t even remember his name. It all just descended into background noise, harmlessly ricocheting off of my eardrums. But I’m sure it was quite good. Anyone who tries to reinvent the sound of an instrument like the ukulele in shocking ways is okay in my book, damn it.
A short time after Geoffrey returned from his escapades at the other table and informed me I was to be one of his wives as well, one of Upton’s friends showed up from out of town, trying to catch up with his old pal. This poor unsuspecting straight-laced bastard is named Kurt. He’s always been awkward but eager to impress: a man with simple tastes and interests, always trying to show greater depth than he may actually possess, bless his little heart. Although, he’s a perfectly kind and agreeable person to be around. Trying once again to entertain us, he started falsely flirting with Geoffrey, who he’d never met before. Everyone was laughing, and then suddenly he was unzipping his pants as if to taunt Geoffrey. Before I could warn him to be careful what he was doing, Geoffrey’s hand was down Kurt’s pants and grabbing his bare cock. Kurt leapt to his feet, his face red as a spanked ass-cheek, and fled the area wailing in horror. The whole scene suddenly became very ugly or hilarious, depending on how drunk or uptight you were. Geoffrey and Bev and Upton and I enjoyed a good guffaw, but some other members of the party made excuses and departed not long after. Kurt may never recover from having another man’s hand on his business.
When something like that happens, it’s time to move onto the closer: Half-Time bar and grill on high street, at the northern edge of downtown Salem. Full disclosure: Half-Time is a dive bar. Located in what was once a Rockin’ Roger’s burger joint, it’s small, looks seedy on the outside and only a little less so on the inside. Its main redeeming value is that it’s pretty much the only bar open after 12:30 in downtown Salem, unless Brown’s Towne is unusually busy and decides to keep their doors open later. Half-Time has other great qualities though. By that time of night, since you don’t care about what you’re drinking anymore, you can take advantage of their $1.75 Pabst-in-a-can special, which is on all day and night, every day and night. You can also take advantage of their awesome bar food. I’m always amazed by their bartenders, because the cheap dullard who owns the place – and often sits around drinking by himself or inviting himself to sit with paying customers – usually only staffs one person at a time to cook and bartend simultaneously. Nevertheless, these good folks fry up some of the best damn sweet potato tots and nachos around.
When they aren’t slaving away, the bartenders are all good company as well. My favorite is Larry, who has a shaved bald head and a gnarly bushy beard. When he’s not working or drinking at Half-Time, he’s drinking somewhere else. After he’s off his shift, he’s always hanging out with the patrons well into the night, often rap-battling them inside the phone booth in the parking lot, surrounded by an awed crowd of onlookers. The staff there also has a delightful game called “Hide the Gnome” which they play amongst themselves. They attempt to hide a small ceramic gnome from the next bartender on duty at the end of their shifts. The only rule is that it must be hidden somewhere behind the bar. When things slow down, they can often be seen tossing the shelves back there, cursing the wily ceramic beast.
Well, it’s last call and I’m sitting here in the corner of the Half-Time now, putting the finishing touches on this post. Larry is closing up shop. Upton and Bev are passed out on the table next to me. Geoffrey has long since departed chasing some man meat. After I finish up these last few sentences and polish off my sixteenth drink, I’ll haul these sorry wrecks home in a taxi and stagger to bed. On the way home, I might try to drunk dial Comrade Richard “Bingo” Little and threaten him with violence if he doesn’t post an argument to Disputationes that I can refute soon. But apart from that, it’s more and more nights and weird mornings to come in this land of Salem. If you know any good nooks, corners, holes or hideaways in which to pass the time around this berg, leave a comment and share. We Salemites have to stick together; it’s us against sobriety.
A great swell of sadness overcame me this morning after I had gotten myself a head full of peyote while watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I saw Hunter Thompson (played by Johnny Depp) sitting in his violently savaged hotel room typing away on his red IBM Selectric and I thought to myself, No one will ever do that again. No one will ever find themselves barricaded into a flooded hotel room typing about a generation of failed seekers because this is a generation of seekers who – they think – cannot fail to find the so-called truths which they are seeking. The internet and the personal computer has destroyed the mystery of the world, and – I’ve come to believe today – some of the mystery of writing. Almost every word written in the world today can be deleted without a trace before it is ever fixed in print. The typewriter was the last machine which fixed the Word permanently even as it escaped the writer’s mind.
These revelations in my drug-addles mind, I decided to escape the confines of my domicile and the internet for at least a few hours and write something that would – for better or worse – exist in print and not just the ethers of the world wide web, something that would not vanish with the human race, never to be found by future space-faring civilizations.
I owned already an antique manual typewriter: a portable Royal (pictured right) on which this is now being typed (at least in its first draft). But earlier in the morning I had already decided that I should set out to find an electric IBM Selectric – red if possible – and use that to honor the memory of the dear departed bard, Hunter Thompson.
Of course, the last Selectric model ever manufactured by IBM was made in 1980, and that wasn’t even the same model used by Thompson, so I was in for an adventure. I tried every antique and thrift store in town, tooling around in my beat up sedan, tires screeching, pedestrians screaming in mortal terror as I crossed their paths with grim death in my eyes: I was on a fucking mission.
After a lot of bad noise, I found that there was only one place in the entire city which eve sold electric typewriters of any kind: Goodwill. What a harsh trip, wandering through crowds of losers browsing over-sized twenty-year-old Bill Cosby sweaters, thrashed lounge furniture, urine-stained blankets, soiled coffee makers and vintage 1992 era computer hardware. Hell, I searched madly and desperately for twenty minutes through this cesspool of disease and despair, eventually becoming convinced that I had been misinformed by that motherfucker at the St. Vincent de Paul about the typewriters. Before I finally found the old crusters, I even found an ancient Polaroid camera with film still inside (I took a picture of my genitals and left it in the case for some poor unsuspecting bastard to find). By the end of the search, I was on the verge of giving up, and gagging from the foul odors that permeated the place.
Finally I stumbled across the old beasts sitting underneath other used office equipment. I shooed away an older Hispanic gentleman who smelled of oranges so I could get at them, and he stumbled down the aisle to get help from what I assumed to be his (burly six-foot-seven) grandson. They spoke in Spanish quietly, pointing at me with an incredulous look in their eyes. Shit, I thought, here it comes. I had to make a selection quickly and get the fuck out of there. I started tossing typewriters behind me in the aisle, looking for the fabled Selectric. Of course, there were none. I found mostly Smith Corona electrics circa 1975. As the gentleman of considerable stature lumbered towards me menacingly, I decided to grab the Smith Corona XE 1950 model (pictured left) and flee the scene. I sprinted to the front of the store, knocking over an old woman’s shopping cart on the way, and dropped the thing on the counter, paying with a wadded twenty dollar bill. “Yeah, yeah! Keep the change!” I shouted at the poor cashier as I ran out the door with my prize intact. The surly Hispanic gentleman appeared at the door, shaking his fist at me, just as I was peeling rubber past him in my howling beast of a car.
Christ, I thought. My troubles are finally over. Now I can go home, drink a six pack, snort some coke, an write a damn good page: a page that would be real, tangible and incorruptible. It would be a page never to exist inside the meta-god we called the internet, at least not in that draft’s form. And it would be a page that could never really be destroyed by the click of a mouse, or the stroke of a key.
I sat down at the dining room table, plugged the old saw bitch workhorse into the wall outlet, and flipped the power switch. I reveled in the loud whirring sound the thing made as it warmed up, and generally appreciated that I had just bought something that had a power switch and not some button or sensor or fucking touch screen. Then I slipped in some paper and began to punch the keys with my usual violence. My euphoria was short-lived, however, as I found that the fucking thing did not work at all. It was humming, but the keys were all dead, completely unresponsive. I pried the case open and went digging with the old toolkit in a vain attempt to stir the innards of the beast and get it jump-started, but to no avail. The thing seemed to be mechanically sound, which left only the possibility that there was some faulty electrical connection somewhere between the keyboard and the business end of things. With all the stuff floating around in my head, I was in no condition to start tinkering with something that could potentially electrocute me, nor was I in any condition to drive back to the Goodwill and buy another model (I had probably burned my bridges there anyway).
For a few moments I thought the whole thing had been in vain, that the written word had finally died with that crotchety old bitch of a Smith Corona. But I decided after a few minutes of catatonic despair that I would not give up, that I would get really archaic. I decided to dig out the old Royal that I knew was molding somewhere in the attic. I tied a rag around my face and climbed the ladder up into the dusty old lair, brandishing a dust pan at any would-be rodent attackers. It didn’t take as much searching as I might have feared. There the thing was in its ratty old green portable carrying case. I carried it down into the dining room, set the Smith Corona aside. I dusted the Royal off, fed it some paper, and got to work.
Now this was a superior machine. The experience of working its keys reminded me of driving a car without power steering after power steering was all you had ever known. Each punch of the key requires so much violent force and so much energy when it is all said and done, that by the time you are finished with the first page you feel you have to make every word count. A wasted paragraph at that stage is not an option. Who would want to make the fingers bleed and the cuticles bruise just for some useless bit of prose which would only be crossed out in the editing process?
It was invigorating. Every time I switched over to my Toshiba laptop to research something on Google or Wikipedia, or to find a picture of some old IBM Selectric (yes, there it is on the right), I found myself inadvertently pounding the meager plastic keys so hard that I was sure they would soon shatter under the force of my fingers. Switching back to the Royal made my blood run hot; the stainless steel keys with glass inlays covering the letter labels clacking under the assault of the fingers was a beautiful sound that I had not heard in person for too many long days and sleepless nights.
I’ve been working on this piece for over two hours now (in its original draft, that is) and I’m just finishing up the second page on the Royal. It’s not because I type that slow, but because I have stopped so many times to think about what I’m going to write. How many times do you normally do that when you’re writing on a computer these days? Hardly at all, of course. A computer-generated text can be tinkered with too easily, changed and changed back without enough thought or effort. Meanwhile, the typewriter is a pure machine which leaves the writer alone with his thoughts, unconnected from the internet and the electronic world. Furthermore, its a machine which forces the writer to be honest and hard-working, to be careful as he works the word. For that alone, I love the typewriter. And for nothing more than that, the typewriter will not survive in this modern world. The information age is choking this noble machine to death with its speed and thoughtlessness. The defiance of one drug-addled trouble-making blogger with a nostalgic trip dominating his morning cannot save the old beasts.
I can only recommend that from time to time all of you give one of the old bitches a try for old time’s sake – or, the gods forbid, for first time’s sake – and marvel at the pure creative urges that will surely wash over you and cleanse you. Please, if not for you, do it for me. Something is dying in this world that I would like to keep a memory of.
I’m reminded of a scene from The Road, Cormac McCarthy‘s savage tale of the post-apocalypse an a father and son who travel through it together. The main character’s son is a boy who was born on the eve of Armageddon and grew up in the apparent nuclear ice age that followed. In the scene in question, the father and son are wandering through a supermarket looking for edible food and potable water when they come across an unopened can of Coca-Cola. The son asks the father innocently, “What is it?” I was moved to profound feelings of sadness and sorrow at that moment in the story more so than any other. I mourned for the boy, who would never understand a marvelous shared human experience.
And if I ever have a son and if he ever finds a portable manual Royal typewriter in my closet and asks, “What is it?” that will be the day that I must go out onto the front lawn and eat a gun. But I would only do that after composing my will on this old bitch of a Royal and copying it in triplicate on my 1906 model Roneo Duplicator (pictured on the right, bitches!). The will would read something like this:
I am to be loaded onto a viking funeral barge with all of my worldly possessions. My wife should be tied to the mainmast of the ship before it disembarks. My Royal typewriter should be placed with reverence upon my chest with my arms crossed over it and my hands clasped over the keys. My friends and family should fire flaming arrows at the ship as it is launched into the Pacific Ocean with authentic Norse long bows. A viking mead hall is to be construct on the beach and my friends and family should celebrate my life and memory to excess by rinking copious amounts of mead, ingesting catastrophic doses of most drugs known to civilized man, and performing unspeakable public sex acts upon one another.
If only, friends. If only, dear constant readers. If only it were so…