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For Ecological Reasons Alone

2009 story submission by “Insolence” (Jason Rizos)

Jackie said that her mother would “simply adore” a bike tour of downtown Portland. I wondered why Jackie picked these words, and why she articulated them with a Southern drawl, but upon meeting Sheila, it made perfect sense. She flew in from Austin along with Jackie’s geeky young brother Steven, ostensibly to see Puget Sound, but the true agenda was obvious–meeting her only daughter’s now serious boyfriend. That would be me. I brought the rental bikes, along with my trusty, custom Quixote three-speed touring bike, to the Silver Cloud where Jackie’s family was staying. After waiting a full forty minutes for Steven to get out of the shower and dress, we embarked down 23rd Street.  Jackie left the Bicycle Tour trip planning to me, seeing I was commuted through the metro area just about every day, en route to my job at the Oregon Public Broadcasting PSU annex. This happened to be the very topic of conversation at our first destination–Rose’s Bakery.

“Who would have ever guessed radio stations would hire writers?” Sheila asked as we sat outside eating delectable pastries. She had the impeccable, rock-solid manner of a true Midwesterner and the quaint naiveté to match.

“Yes,” I said in affirmation, just wishing to get along. “Have been for a long time. Just like any other kind of journalism.” I took a bite of my Danish. I looked into the clear sky above. I made extra sure I was being cordial because, honestly, I had no doubt that Sheila was genuinely astounded that radio news was not completely ad hoc. Unfortunately, a dead space emerged in the conversation where the rest of us could just hear the wheels turning her head. I missed the chance to seize the opportunity.

“Well,” she said after a long pull of iced tea. “I just thought the news told the news just the way it happened.”

Jackie’s eyes rolled. Her shoulders sunk.

“No, Mother…” She squeezed the bridge of her nose and sighed deeply. “He writes the news, and the host reads it.”

“Oh,” Sheila said, patting her lips with a napkin. Her eyes darted left and right. Steven devoted his full attention to his Blackberry PDA. From his tucked-in plaid short-sleeved shirt, to his quasi-retro Adidas sneakers, everything about Steven simply shouted Computer Geek Extraordinaire. I resigned myself to the fact that we would not be getting along.

“He doesn’t make it up.” Jackie continued. “He’s writing fiction on the side. It’s different for the station.”

“Oh, I see.” Sheila nodded appreciatively. I don’t think she cared either way.

“The difference–” Jackie was interrupted by her brother.

“The difference,” Steven did not bother looking up from his PDA. “Is that journalism is unreadable. And fiction is not read.”

Touché, I thought. So he’s heard of Oscar Wilde. Jackie balled her fists. As it turned out, Steven had just landed a high-paying position right out of college, a programmer for Microsoft. Splendid.

“Well, I’m just happy that it’s all working out for the both of you.” Sheila tried her darnedest to thaw the ice. “And I’m happy you are enjoying your job too, Stevie.”

“I said it was like working on the Death Star.” He deadpanned. Jackie pinched his knee.

“She doesn’t know that show!” She whispered through clenched teeth.

“It’s a movie–ack!” Steven groaned as Jackie turned up the volume on his knee.

“Why don’t we ride?” I seized the opportunity. We hopped on our bikes and I brought the troupe down 23rd, hoping to cut through Couch Park and avoid as much traffic as possible before crossing the 405 and arriving at Powell’s. Humiliated, Jackie sped off like a bat out of hell. Her mother did a terrific job keeping up. Steven, on the other hand, had no problem lagging behind. So I slowed down to make sure he did not get separated from the tour.

“What do you think of Portland?” I said, ignoring the rivalry between us.

“Not much of a music scene, I guess.”

“It’s eleven o’clock in the morning!” I countered.

“Have you ever been to New Orleans?” Steven asked. He had been eager to school me on the relative merits of The South ever since stepping off the plane.

“Sure I have.”

“Well, Austin is just like New Orleans. Sans crime.”

“Hmm…” I said. “Then what’s left?”

“Culture.” He pushed ahead. “For one.”

“We’ve got culture!” I yelled, casting an open hand all around. “23rd happens to be the exception to the rule.” I pretended not to notice the Dolce and Gabbana entourage loaded with shopping bags and headed into Starbucks. Jackie and her mother turned down Flanders and we followed.

Our conversation was interrupted when a Hispanic woman in a traditional maid’s outfit came running out of one of those massive houses on Flanders, a big bushy mess in her arms. This caught Steven’s attention, as well as my own, and we slowed down to see what the commotion was. The woman stopped right before us on the sidewalk. A young, gangly boy with a fauxhawk stood in the foyer of the home and whatever it was he pleaded, we could tell that it was absolutely unpersuasive. The woman opened the lid to an empty trash bin and swiftly tossed this entire blackish-green plant inside.

“Su madre se va a enfadar, Miguel!” She stammered.

“Jeez!” Miguel yelled, half-obscuring himself in the doorway. “You’re going to kill it! Just be careful, o.k?” She let the lid fall down as she brushed her hands together. And just as fast as she had dashed her way to the sidewalk, she reentered the house and was gone. I managed to catch just one final glance from this shifty eyed teenager in the doorway before the door slammed closed. I feigned confusion, but I knew exactly what she had thrown away.

“Did you see that?” I asked Steven. He slowed to a stop, gently let his foot touch the pavement.

“Was that… Was that… cannabis?” He asked.

I coasted to a stop beside him.

“I think that was cannabis,” I said matter-of-factly.

“Well…” He began to speak. “We should….”

“For ecological reasons alone–” I offered.

“Right. Ecology alone.” He said, no longer a stranger to the Green Movement.

“No reason for a plant to have to die, right?”

“Right.”

I reached for my cell phone. Both of my friends who lived in the Pearl did not answer. Steven scanned the area for ideas. I saw Jackie and her mother waiting in the distance.

“What about your saddle bags?” he finally asked.

“They’re called panniers.” I attempted a feeble barb as we dropped our bikes and ran to the trash bin.

“Way too big,” I said, looking down at the unscathed marijuana bush resting serenely within.

“It’s in a plastic planter.” Steven said upon examining the three-foot shrub. “Just stuff the pot in your bag.”

“What, and kill it?”

“No, the planter, I mean.”

“Christ, I can smell it already.” I said, waving my hand over the bin.

“Is there a grocery store nearby?” Steven asked. I had never seen such exhilaration. Not one to be outdone by a crazy, haphazard, ill-conceived plan, I gave a moment’s pause to the feasibility of this illicit acquisition.

“Yeah, right next door to Powell’s.”

“Oh man, don’t tell me you are taking us to a bookstore?” He groaned.

“Just one.”

“Alright. I’ve got a plan.” Steven grabbed the branches and lifted the plant out of the bin. He stuffed it into the right saddle bag of my innocent bicycle. Jackie looked back one more time. I waved and she continued on.

“Just act natural?” He said tentatively as we appraised the giant spit of foliage leaping from this potmobile. Not two minutes later, I somehow found myself pumping down Everett Street, wind whooshing through the branches of my plant.

“I look like the Grinch, for Chrissake!” I yelled back at him, the absurdity of the situation now setting in. We sped to catch up with my girlfriend and her mother. If pedestrian onlookers were uncertain of what I was carrying on my bike, the students outside the Art Institute removed all doubt. They laughed, they hollered, they cheered. In that order. Then salvation occurred to me–the Marijuana Dispensary on Ankeny. So long as we could make it to Southeast, I reasoned, we were golden.

We locked our bikes together beside the Whole Foods where a construction crew tearing up the sidewalk provided cover. Steven crashed his way into the ritzy grocer. I threw my hoodie over the plant and ran into Powell’s where I found Jackie sipping Chai contemplatively while catching up on the latest Douglas Rushkoff title. Her mother had somehow been seduced by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I could tell by the look on her face that it was not what she had expected.
“Gosh,” She said. “I had no idea….” She looked away from the pages she held right before her nose. “Your father never could get that old Indian running properly.” She shook her head sadly.

“What were you doing with that plant back there?” Jackie followed me as I went for a cup of water.

“Somebody was getting rid of it.”

“What do you care about some dumb plant, anyway?” She asked.

“Well, it’s a living thing, you know. No point letting it die in a trashcan just because some rich folks are sick of it.” I walked a fine line of truthiness. Jackie reached over and gave me a hug. I downed a second cup of water.

“Awww….That’s so sweet!” She took my hand and then hung her head. “I’m so sorry about mother. Just please, if you could–”

“Deal with it? No, don’t worry. She’s a hoot.”

“Come off it.” Jackie said.

“No, I really mean it. This is fun.” I was certain the fun would end once we left Powell’s and discovered poor Steven bound in handcuffs. He grossly overestimated Portland’s fondness for cannabis and I should have known better than to have allowed this cockamamie idea take hold. “I was thinking maybe we could go down Burnside. See the city from on top of the bridge and then head into North East.”

“North East? Why bother? What’s up there that isn’t a million miles away?”

“Well, Fire on the Mountain is quite a local landmark.” I offered.

“Chicken wings and beer? Are you serious? Why not swing by the Sugar Shack?”

“But the décor, right? It’s like a history museum.”

She gave me an incredulous glare.

“For potheads. Yeah. I know.”

I didn’t know what to counter with. FH Steinbart was out of the question, but it was all I could think of. Something had to bring us by Ankeny if we were to have a shot at the Dispensary.

“Are you o.k?” Jackie asked. “You look antsy.”

“No, I’m fine.” I said. We returned to the table by the window and I listened for the sound of incoming sirens. Once Jackie settled back into her book, I excused myself to go check on Steven. I found him in front of the Whole Foods, somehow not drawing a crowd, as he strung a series of cherry tomatoes along a length of butcher string.

“I read about it in High Times!” Steven whispered.

“This is supposed to pass as a tomato plant? That’s your plan? Why didn’t you just buy a neon sign with a big arrow on it?” I said.

“Do you know how expensive those signs are?” he asked sarcastically.

“Everything is a zinger with you, you know that?” I said as we climbed on our bikes.

“Where do we go now?” He asked.

“There is one of those medicinal marijuana dispensaries on Ankeny. They’ll be able to hold onto it for us for a while.”

“They will? Are you sure? They have deposit boxes?”

“I’m sure they’ll understand the circumstances.”

“They’ll understand how to flick their Bic, is what they’ll understand. Bunch of hippies.” He pantomimed a heroic bong hit.

“That’s why you guys don’t have medicinal marijuana in Texas. It’s for attitudes like that.” I said curtly.

“Au Contraire, Mon Frere. We just keep our health care Privatized, if you know what I mean.”

“Cute.” I said, reaching for my keys. “Oh crap,” I patted my thighs. “I think I left them in front of that kid’s house!” I searched beneath the plant stuffed in my fender bag. No luck. “Yep, I took them out and set them right there in the grass.” I confessed. Steven wasted no time. He reached beyond the orange construction fence and lifted a sledgehammer. With one fell swoop he destroyed my U-lock. I fetched Jackie and Sheila from the Powell’s café and we soldiered onward.

Jackie stopped her bike not three blocks away and excused herself to use the restroom, which meant, of course, that now everybody had to go to the bathroom. So we marched into the nearest establishment, which, as it turned out, was Ground Kontrol. The arcade. I threw my entire bike, along with the plant, into the back alley dumpster. Then I stepped inside and leaned up against the wall by the counter. I smiled apologetically to the guy who had broken countless $5 bills on my behalf. He did not appear to have recognized the top score holder for Circus Voltaire pinball. 128 million. Finished the Ringmaster, too. No big deal, has nothing to do with the story. I just thought I’d mention that. I didn’t hold anything against him.

Besides, he didn’t seem to even notice us enter. His eyes remained fixed on the television screen above the bar, which appeared to be the local news. Scratch that, I squinted at the picture, breaking local news. The video showed a bunch of bikers. Then the camera focused in on one of the riders.

“Same saddle bags as me!” I laughed to the video game attendant. Oh crap. Plain as day, there was my bike, with the absconded cannabis plant dead-on in the frame, astride my frame. I gasped. I wanted to turn up the volume, but right at that moment some kid with Pac Man tattoos covering his arm set down his can of Pabst and burst out laughing. He stood up from his barstool and mashed the volume button on the TV.

“–Police officials have issued a statement.” The news anchor affected a husky tone to help us understand he was quoting the police, “‘No doubt, what we have here is a publicity stunt executed by NORML, The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.’ Not to worry, police officials reminded KATU that the noxious odor emitted by plants such as this is not known to have any harmful effects. But police still recommend that residents remain indoors, or immediately seek shelter should they come upon a sweet, marijuana-like aroma.” The screen cut to a visual aid, a graphical map of The Pearl. An animated red arrow retraced our path from Flanders and pointed exactly where we were headed next. “The protestors, lead by an individual that residents refer to as ‘The Grinch’ is most likely headed north, to the Alberta Arts District, a neighborhood home to Portland’s most cherished marijuana aficionados.”

I held my breath and slowly turned my back away from this traumatic broadcast. There behind me stood Steven, watching the broadcast, grimacing like Donkey Kong.

“We need to get to that dispensary!” I stammered.

“O.k. You start pedaling, I’ll bring up the rear.”

“You don’t even know where we are going!”

“I’ve got my GPS, I can find it, o.k?”

“The chicken wing place. Go straight there.” I said and burst outside the arcade. A second later my head reappeared in the doorway. “Fire on the Mountain!” I caught him salivating over the array of classic arcade games on the first floor. “And don’t think about getting in a game of TRON either.”

“But it’s discs of TRON!” He countered.

“I don’t care. Get moving.”

I ran around the outside of the building, hoisted myself over the lip of the dumpster in the alleyway. With that tremendous strength given to mothers lifting cars off of their babies, I pulled first my bicycle, and then the plant up from its second waste receptacle of the day.

I burst down Couch street and through Chinatown. When it came time to wait at the light at Burnside and 3rd, I had a chance to catch my breath. It was then that I noticed the street filling with residents who had stepped outside in hopes of sighting the big event broadcast on their televisions. A procession from Voodoo Doughnut snapped pictures with one hand, maple-bacon long johns in the other.

And then, right at the Burnside Bridge, my coup de grace, my Waterloo, my Little Bighorn, my OK Corral, my–

“Howdy officers,” I said as my wheels ground to a halt before them. They leaned stiffly on the doors of their car, arms crossed and faces stoic behind smoked lenses. I did not hesitate to explain my actions.

“You see,” I began, “It’s not everyday that somebody just throws out a perfectly good cannabis plant.” Their faces remained motionless, but in my mind I saw them chewing tobacco and slapping batons in their hands. “Though technically I’m not permitted to be in possession of such a plant as this, I wish only to save it from extermination. My reasons are strictly ecological.”

“We’re not here to bust you, kid.” The one on the driver’s side door blurted out in the intimidating baritone voice the news anchor had so poorly reprised. Then the other one spoke in a charming, if condescending tone.

“City has us here to protect you. How you like that?”

“That’s really not necessary, officers, I’ve rode this bridge before–”

“Order’s orders. The first cop said. I remained frozen. Then the second spoke again.

“Whatcha waitin’ on, Arbor Day? Or what say we prepare for a public spectacle taking place right on this here premises?” His tone was as good as a gust of air and I jumped right back on my bike and fled over the Burnside Bridge. Down below, a few boats were gathered for what appeared to be my occasion. A gaggle of shirtless mariners worked quickly to erect a giant LEGALIZE IT banner above their anchored yacht.

I made it all the way to MLK without downshifting. As I approached the dispensary on Ankeny, a group of cyclists circled in on vintage single-speeds. A guy pulled up to me wearing a pinstripe silk shirt, tight black jeans, and Buddy Holly glasses. At first I was worried this was some kind of street gang until I saw that he had a soul patch. He started whispering “pssst pssst” so I said “What?”

“What are you doing coming to our clinic?” He yelled sotto voce.

“The dispensary can hold onto this for a bit, right?” I asked.

“Dispensary! We’re not a dispensary. Who told you that? We just issue licenses! How many times do I….Distribution is expressly forbidden under Oregon law. We do not give people marijuana! We do not get people high!” He annunciated his verbs carefully.

“Fine, fine. Relax, why don’t you?” I whispered back. “That’s ridiculous, by the way, and I did not know that.” I thought fast. I pedaled ahead of the angry hipster and through a crowd of folks who had set up a bloom of lawn chairs at 16th. As I drew near they began clapping. I stood up on my pedals, let go of my handlebars, clasped my hands together, and shook them victoriously. I felt like Caesar crossing the Rubicon. They clapped and clapped until it was at last clear I was not stopping. Then, once I reached the next block, they started booing.

“Judas!” I yelled over my shoulder and pressed on. I zigzagged block to block until I reached 20th and Stark–Lone Fir Cemetery. I threw my bike in some nearby foliage and sprinted into the cemetery with the plant in my arms. At this moment of utmost clandestine necessity, my phone decided to ring. It was Steven. He said he had taken care of everything and would be right there. Low and behold, just as I shut off my phone, I see him trailblazing through the middle of the graveyard, oblivious to the ample paths.

“Pretty secluded in here, I guess.” He said as he approached. “Just don’t stick it on Tommy Chong’s grave or something.”

“Tommy Chong is still alive, you ass!”

“I know that. I’m just saying, that if and when he ever passes, heaven forbid, his will be the one the police are searching on a regular basis.”

“That’s morbid.”

“Fella can’t catch a break.”

“Duly noted.” I said. “Let’s just stick it here? O.k?”

“Fine.” He bent his knee and read the tombstone. “In memory of…Abraham Lipstein. Oh Jesus he’s probably a survivor.” Steven wailed.

“Will you leave it alone? Pay some respect to Mr. Lipstein, please?” I dug into the loamy Willamette Valley soil with my broken U-lock. Once burrowing out a nice deep pocket, I set the plant into the hole and picked the last remaining tomatoes from her branches. I brushed some soil back into the hole and pressed it down with my foot.

“That should do ‘er.” I drawled, taking my shot at the Police Chief vernacular and brushing my hands together. I winked and then all at once looked serious again.

Steven and I sat down simultaneously before my girlfriend and her mother. I was certain I could eat all the chicken wings. I mean all the chicken wings in the restaurant. Dire Wolf kicked on the speakers above. Dead Reckoning. Jerry’s voice was like a soothing rain. Nice, open-air acoustic set. I didn’t hesitate to gulp my Hop Monkey.

“Oh! How delightful!” Sheila squealed when the waitress set a platter of wings before us. She turned to me with cheering arms. I kept chugging. “Jackie says these are Buffalo wings.”

We waited. She took a bite of the sticky red drummie she held with two hands.

“They say Bison is real healthy.”

“…Mother…” Jackie began again.

“Bison is the correct nomenclature.” I said and set my foamy pint glass hard upon the table. Jackie took exception to my pace. “What?”

“We should all eat more Bison,” Steven quipped while reaching for a wing. “For ecological reasons alone.”

© 2009 Jason Rizos

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One Response

  1. “Grimaced like Donky Kong” = GOLD!

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