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The lengths I'll go for wordplay

I come off as kind of a jerk in this story.

From 10th to 12th grade, at James Madison High School in Vienna, VA, I worked on my school's newspaper, the Hawk Talk. Senior year, 1991 to 1992, I edited the Entertainment section, including writing and editing reviews. (Here's what I said about Alien 3.)

That's when the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their album Blood Sugar Sex Magic, and one of our harsher writers reviewed it. He liked it a lot. Here's why I mentioned him being harsh: he'd use harsh phrasing. He jokingly predicted that because of its content and name the RHCP album would "be denounced by Reverend What's-His-Name at the New Unified Church of the Resurrected Holy Thing." My Journalism teacher, Mrs. Webb, asked if I wanted that in the review. She felt it was insulting. Me, who'd long been rather agnostic but not anti-religion, was allowed to make the call whether or not to use the phrase. I allowed it; I found it amusing. While we talked, Mrs. Webb suggested rewriting it to claim a specific religious leader was likely to denounce the album. I disagreed, feeling a) that would be putting words in someone's mouth and b) doing it Mrs. Webb's way wouldn't be funny; but I was letting the review play to a more general stereotype of people who use religion as an excuse to be busybodies. That represents very few of the people I know who are religious, then and now.

I was kind of a jerk to use that.

But I'm amused that I found a really apt way to refer to that line when it would come up in discussion. I called it "the irreverent Reverend reference."

Words.

I reached the last page of my poetry notebook.
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That spiral notebook started out as one I used for work, at the most recent desk job at CLEAResult. When I left that temp assignment, I tore out the work-related pages and had more pages, blank, waiting. A day after I'd ended that job, I started filling the notebook with poems, plus poetry exercises because I later borrowed Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Traveled, his book on writing poetry.

I've said it often these past two years: I'd missed writing poetry. I'm enjoying writing more of it. Last year, I decided that that Composition notebook (the same kind of notebook Patton Oswalt writes in) would be my next poetry notebook. More recently, I wondered what the last poem in the first one would be. It's "To Swim in Stars," which I finished and posted earlier. It seems like a good one to end on — I felt like any short poem I might put on that last page would seem silly right on the heels of the long one — so after I'd put up the poem, I drew a red line down the rest of that last page. Time to move on to the next. There's room for more words there.

Some of the words will be good ones. I am learning.

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After all, they did tell us this:



(That clip? Not Safe For Work. So, so Not Safe For Work.)

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To Swim in Stars
by Christopher Walsh, 1/01/2018-1/16/2018






Parts of the universe are thick with light.
Clusters of suns, gravity-bonded
And gravity-bonding,
Hold their swirling worlds and meteors and comets and unaffiliated dust
In what look like endless loops.
In places, planets form.
We finally confirmed that: science proved
That worlds are not an accident of our own sun.
The math of star-forming and planet-forming
Works, it seems, everywhere.
Someday, it may be surprising to find a place where it doesn't.
Rocks can turn to ground, gas can turn to air,
Accreting and coalescing
Into a place where life is possible.
The energy of just one small star
Was enough to create the foundation of Earth.
Conditions in star clusters have their own variables,
Gravity pulling from more close suns than what we have,
Complicating how anything else pulls together,
And yet, pull together, things might.
Look at Pleiades,
The knot of stars Sappho may have gazed at,
And picture a planet within it:
Far younger, millions of years old instead of billions,
Still a molten, rocky riot impossible to stand on
— So be near it, instead —
Look in all directions away from it:
Light.
Seems and feels like all the light,
Stark there,
Filtered through wisps of interstellar dust there,
Far older dust, left behind,
Which the cluster is simply passing through.
So much of the light blue-tinged:
More blue, too, than you think there could be,
Almost more blue than you can process,
As well as the all-black of the background beyond those nearest stars.
You see past and through the Pleiades.
You see more, beyond the nearest light.
Cosmically, in relative terms we can only partly understand,
The cluster won't be there long.
Gravity and tidal forces and simple movement and time
Will pull it apart.
We can understand enough of all this
Through math.
Math, in its way, is beautiful.
Stars end. Clusters end. Galaxies do.
That particular pool of light will end.
Any planets there may just keep going,
Turning rogue,
Growing near as cold as cold can get.
But much light will replace any such lost light.
The end of light will happen
On a near-unimaginable time scale.
The heat-death of the universe: a hell of a thing to think about.
For now, for then,
For future times,
We keep seeing the light:
From near (our sun)
From not far (the Pleiades)
From farther (Andromeda)
From so far we have trouble measuring except in time:
"This light started ten billion years ago," we can sometimes say.
Much of the far future will still be full of light,
Simply light which we'll never see.
The energy of the cosmos
Outlives us all.
Energy is as big as the universe.
And energy brings us light.

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The importance of having an on-site editor

Douglas Adams got so far behind when writing So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, the fourth Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novel, that his publisher moved Adams into a London hotel suite where he did nothing but write. Adams moved into the suite's small bedroom, his editor Sonny Mehta moved into the large bedroom (with a VCR so he could watch films), and for about three weeks Adams madly wrote, with breaks only to eat, sleep, and jog in Hyde Park. Mehta was there as on-site editor, so he got first look at pages as Adams finished them. Not an ideal way to write a novel, but necessary so that Douglas Adams would not blow the last deadline.

Now I wonder how on-site editing would have changed the plot of Stephen King's The Shining.

Jack Torrance sets up his office space and typewriter in the Overlook Hotel, and Wendy Torrance says "Jack, hon, you know...I'd have time to, you know, if you'd like, look over pages once you're done for the day, kind of keep track of the progress you're making, watch how things develop, it'd be good practice for me and it could help you..."

And Jack, only just about to start and not having had to gripe to her that her coming into his writing space breaks his concentration so that hasn't become an issue, considers her offer and says "That...that is not a bad idea."

Point is, Wendy Torrance would've spotted and flagged that whole "ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY" business by the second time he'd written that. The story never would have gotten to here!


MAYBE IT WOULD HAVE GONE TO HELL A DIFFERENT WAY, but not that way.

And that is why you always leave a note think about having an on-site editor.

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Sunday words

Can a poem be pretentious if there are no words in it?

...wow, Chris, pretty conceptual.

Anyway, yes, another poem's in progress. I started it January 1st and got a good amount done tonight. It's...kind of cosmic.

I know I can be pretentious. Occupational writing hazard. Hard to avoid it unless you don't write anything. Now I wonder: how close to perfect have I gotten a poem...

...hmm. A goal.

* * * * *

Other updates! I visited my friend Heather T.(formerly Heather G.) in Beaverton, to finish watching Season 1 of Stranger Things. We'd watched the first four episodes a couple of weeks ago. Then and today, I often watched with a concerned expression: I got wrapped up in it. Very good show, but a lot of you know that. And I had good timing getting home; my bus to my neighborhood pulled up so I could board without waiting. *feels good*

Exceptions are allowed

Half a solo red cup of beer. I had that tonight. Technically, a blue cup, but "solo blue cup" sounds wrong.

I was at the second anniversary party of Southeast Barber Co., where I get my haircuts, founded by the guys who ran the Heads High barbershop I was going to for years, even before I moved to the neighborhood near it. It's a good place run by good people (and I like that Southeast Barber Company has enough of a relationship with the gallery that took over the old Heads High space to have fliers for its shows at the new barbershop), and we were in the mood to celebrate.

That beer was my first drink since a glass of wine I got from my Uncle Bill Paulson, a winemaker in the Columbia River Gorge, back last summer. Before that, I hadn't had a drink of any type for a while. ("Drink" as in alcohol: if I weren't drinking anything at all, I'd be dead. There. Satisfied, pedants?) Here's why: sometime in the past couple of years I realized I hadn't had a drink in a while, And I decided Okay, I'll wait to get a drink until I've gotten a new job.

This has been a good plan. It's one of many ways to remind myself of what my current goal is, to work again. I also felt okay with making this exception tonight, and back in the summer. I had the drink, I enjoyed the warmth, I enjoyed the party...both before and after my drink.

Fred, Nigh-er. (Heh.)

Closing time. One last call for alcohol (50% off), so finish your whiskey or beer — I mean, finish your shopping.

This morning I made my last shopping trip to the Southeast Fred Meyer, which is closing. Its closure got moved up, as I'd sort of expected, from January 20th to officially tomorrow, the 13th, but I wonder if it'll close to the public today.

I'd gone there for my last big shopping trip on December 30th, a Saturday. That time I bought toys and new bedsheets (each half-off or more), along with groceries. I'd peeked in this past Wednesday, detouring on my way to the Holgate branch of the library, and what I saw then I saw more so today: merchandise moved where possible to the front of aisles, and not much of that merchandise left. Almost everything, including wine, was half-off. I resisted getting some; I'm still not drinking alcohol, for now.

My shopping cost $20.48. I saved $20.75, a hair over 50%; I'd inadvertently used two coupons I hadn't realized were loaded to my Fred Meyer Rewards Card. This made up for me trying to use a coupon I thought I had, but either I'd taken that other coupon off or (more likely) it had expired. (I didn't save more than that because I'd bought a total of 13 cans and bottles of soda, which in Oregon means $1.30 in can-and-bottle deposits.) Of course, the non-couponed products were still half-off.

So I took advantage. I'd prefer if the store weren't closing, but that ship has sailed. Because I was curious, I looked up Portland stores on the Fred Meyer app, and saw this:


The Southeast store is starred, but otherwise its upcoming closure, as far as I can tell, isn't noted yet. The other markers are for Fred Meyers and (when smaller) the QFC stores that the Fred Meyer company bought in the Nineties, before Fred Meyer and Kroger merged, so obviously we're not hurting for stores, and general disclaimer that I like Fred Meyer and do most of my grocery shopping there, but...I feel a little abandoned, and I'm one of many who feels that way. The company really does rarely close stores: it mostly remodels or replaces. I was working for Kroger's customer service call center a few years ago when another store, in the north part of Spokane, Washington, closed, and I saw similar reactions from the people who'd shopped there. I understood their feelings then, and I do more so now.

No idea what'll be there next. I half-joked to myself the Belmont Goats could move in if they need a much (MUCH) bigger shelter; and hey, if The Librarians comes back and does an episode set in a big former store, this place would fit. Eventually, as it's a major intersection, SE 82nd and Foster will get something, and it'll likely be big...but that will almost certainly take a while. Until then, fences (already going up yesterday) will block off the parking lot. And a lot if us will start going farther for food and goods.

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Out-Of-Context Theater.

"AutoCorrect wanted Toad the Wet Sprocket to be 'Aboard the Wet Sprocket.' Okay."
Psycho. A terrific pulp title that grabs you. A great book, in its way, as well (by Robert Bloch, from 1959), and then a great movie, thanks to Hitchcock and his collaborators, such as screenwriter Joseph Stefano. The 1960 film about killer Norman Bates and "Mother" is remarkably faithful to Bloch's book, down to the last line. (One thought I had as I read it: while Psycho is a great title, you know what would have been a terrible one? I, Psycho. Sounds pretentious to me, or trying too hard. Plus, spoiler.)

Psycho has one of the weirder follow-ups in movie history, director Gus Van Sant's near shot-for-shot remake from 1998. Almost the exact same script, mostly the same camera angles (with exceptions both for artistic reasons and for moments when the crew simply couldn't replicate how the 1960 film was done), Bernard Herrmann's music redone to be The Same But Fuller and Louder; and with different actors and production designers, who added their own creative decisions to the thousands that make up a movie. The result is, I have thought since it came out, fascinatingly odd; it doesn't quite work, but the ways in which it doesn't work — and, at times, almost works — make me think about the film more than you'd expect. (To brag on myself, I'm especially proud of that review.)

The very nature of what Van Sant did — remake the movie almost exactly — led to people asking Really? Which led to the rumor What if he's doing something different? What if it's the same movie...until the shower scene?

And while that almost certainly never would have happened, I wonder what such a film could have been like. Gus Van Sant is a perverse enough filmmaker that I wouldn't have put it past him...but, how to change it? The book's story and the film's are almost identical; there aren't different story threads to mine from what Bloch wrote.

First possible divergence: Marion Crane doesn't die.

She fights back enough to surprise "Mother," or (perhaps more likely) "Mother" doesn't want Marion to die — "Mother" and Norman's motivations could conflict enough that "Mother" pulls up short, wounding Marion but not killing her. Thing is, this would almost certainly blow the story's big twist: how would the film then hide that "Mother" and Norman are the same? But since that's such a known Big Twist, maybe blowing it so soon could have worked. Watch it be revealed by Norman and "Mother" "arguing" "with" "each other" — really Norman in the wig and the dress changing voices — and Marion realizing how deep in trouble she's in because of Norman Bates.

Plus you have the dynamic of Norman so conflicted about sex, and here's Marion attractive and naked and (though he might not care and "Mother" wouldn't care) terrified of what he'll do. What if, due to his hangups, he couldn't do any more? And what would happen when Marion realized that? This is going in Misery directions, in my mind. What could Marion — wounded, but with her faculties intact — do? What would she do?

Weirdly, this could happen and the rest of the story — Marion's sister Lila getting concerned enough to seek the help of police and Marion's boyfriend Sam, P.I. Arbogast getting on the case — could keep playing out exactly the way it does in the book or the first film, and that would make for a fascinating push-pull. Changed scene, same scene, changed scene, same scene, until the storylines connect. And maybe Sam, Lila, the sheriff, and/or Arbogast showing up could massively complicate the confrontation between Marion and Norman/"Mother." THEN who knows how it would end.

Second possible divergence: Norman flees.

Unlikely. Norman's sense of duty is too strong. Having killed Marion Crane, he had to Do Something About It, and clean away the evidence then try to protect "Mother" from discovery. But if Crane's murder were the last straw for him, maybe he could/would flee, getting into either his car or Marion's, worried that someone else may show up at the hotel and stumble onto "Mother" but relieved that she could not hurt any people elsewhere. And the more I think of this, the more I kind of like the idea...because Norman'd be completely wrong, and putting others in danger by fleeing.

This has a different problem from the first idea: it'd then be harder to reveal who "Mother" really is. It could be confusing — overly confusing — to audiences the first time. Also, he'd be more likely to run into characters we haven't met before, which diffuses the stakes. And having him run into characters we have met could be too contrived.

Divergence 2.5: Norman flees, but can't bring himself to run far. He holds himself up, then maybe returns to the hotel...as someone else we've met also arrives...

Maybe. Maybe. But I'm not excited by the idea. At best, in the context of Vince Vaughn's more tic-heavy performance as Norman in Van Sant's film, this conflict might be easier to show than it would have in the 1960 film with Anthony Perkins' more contained, quiet, and still performance.

Third possible divergence: Marion's trail goes cold.

Something happens to make Marion's boss not want to find Marion and the money she stole (maybe the Monday after Marion fled, cops arrest the boss for reasons having nothing to do with Marion's crime). Or circumstances could make it seem like Marion would be out of contact for non-dangerous reasons, and neither Lila nor Sam get worried enough about where she is. "She's probably fine," they think, while Norman Bates makes Marion and her things disappear.

This is a depressing idea. And probably far too out-of-nowhere a plot twist. At best, it might allow for more time to show Norman and "Mother's" conflict, but this way, the story might simply fizzle out.

Fourth possible divergence: That Cop shows up. Again.

...no, in context there would've been too much chance for that to seem silly. Hell, for me it was a Point of Contention in the original film: the cop follows Marion past a point I'd expect him to follow her, almost to the point of plot contrivance. (The theory is that That Cop, a character added for the film, is mainly there due to Hitchcock's well-known dislike and distrust of cops.)

This has been an intriguing exercise in "What if?" I've kind of been imagining a Psycho Alternate Universe, using the elements Bloch, Hitchcock, Stefano and others came up with and remixing them. And I'm still impressed with how strong the original story is.

Need encouragement?

Here's encouragement. THIS WHALE BELIEVES IN YOU.



Source.
Look up upcoming book I've pre-ordered. Don't see the info showing I'd pre-ordered it. Think "Why isn't it there? I should check in at the main Powell's Books to see if I did something wrong." Realize I'd been looking at the book page on Amazon, not Powells Dot Com.

I'm smrt.

At least I've been out and about, using the bus pass (a day pass in this case): time at the diner My Father's Place on SE Grand, bussing up to and visiting the county library branch on NW 23rd, walking in that area (near where I used to work, circa 2012) and happily finding that the hobbit hole-like coffee shop Coffee Time is still open — it had been closed briefly, recently — peaking into Cinema 21 and noting that I want to get back to it (I haven't seen a film there since it expanded from one screen to three), and now bussing over to the downtown library to have some more time online.
Nasal strips. Good ide— kidding.

(Context! You're welcome. And there, that's out of my system.)

Adventures in dreaming better

Nasal strips. Good idea.

(That is an unappetizing way to start a journal entry and I will never do that again.)

I've done something to help me sleep better lately: I've been using the nasal strips that pull open your nostrils to let more air through. Athletes use them during games, you've seen them. I started doing it because — I need to be honest about this — a few weeks ago I was sharing a hotel room and I snored so loudly that the other person in the hotel room had to wake me up to tell me I was being too loud.

I made another person's night unpleasant. Shoot.

And I wasn't sleeping as deeply as I should have been, either. But I still had some BreatheRight strips I'd gotten a while ago, when I'd had a cold, and started using them again. Then I stocked up on generic nasal strips — really generic, meaning that Kroger brand with the cartoon owls, a brand which debuted when I was a Kroger customer service rep so I got a tutorial on how generic the brand is — and have been using them.

One sign I've been sleeping more deeply: my dreams are even more vivid than usual.

Last night's dream involved people from three different franchises from three different movie studios even — The Fast and the Furious, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the DC Comics/The CW "Arrowverse" shows I like — doing a large-scale action sequence in SE Portland. At SE Foster and Powell at one point, it was that specific (another part of the sequence was being staged along railroad tracks). And I was watching it being made. Yondu was on a motorcycle.

The action sequence even had a soundtrack: the new song from The Killers called "The Man."

My dreams have biiiiiiiiiig budgets.

(Now watch my subconscious react to me posting this by making my dreams sudden be completely non-vivid again...)

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The most me I've ever been

One time in the Nineties, I visited my parents at their home in a lovely, wooded part of Dundee, Oregon. (OK, most of Dundee, much of Yamhill County in fact, is lovely and wooded, but I'm setting the scene here.) The day was bright, sunny and warm, and I was feeling good and glad to be there. I went out on the deck and looked out over the backyard with its sloping lawn, the tall trees, the swing set, and the decorative bushes. I saw a bright object hanging in one of the trees nearby. Nice, I thought, a hummingbird feeder!

Then I realized it was a yellow jacket trap.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I'm reminding myself:

I never want to be the person who looks at a hummingbird feeder and thinks it's a yellow jacket trap.
As I've done since sometime in 2004, I'm keeping track of the books (and book-length works) I read, always with the overarching goal of averaging a book a week so that I can have read at least 52 books in a year. I can have other goals within each year; in 2017 I wanted to make up for my much slower 2016 reading pace, but the bigger goal I had last year (which I met) was to read more works written by women. I expanded that to reading more female poets because a conversation back in September made me realize I, a person who's worked on poetry, had not read nearly enough poetry by women — I haven't even read Sylvia Plath yet, and saying Dorothy Parker or Sappho is almost too easy — so I've dived into Mary Oliver and Wisława Szymborska, and I've just borrowed a Maya Angelou collection. More to come.

The thing is, which "more"? A day or so ago I was thinking about what I hoped to read in 2018, and for a moment I felt a little at sea: I could picture dozens of slots that I hadn't yet filled and worried I'd fill those slots haphazardly. It was like I was preemptively disappointed in myself with what I will have chosen to read. (SYNTAX INTENTIONAL. Heh.)

Then I realized I was overthinking it. I can keep reading, and figure out the direction of my reading as I go on. I don't have to have 12 months plotted out; I haven't before. What I'm doing? I'm headed in a good direction doing it. And this give me room to stumble onto stuff that makes me go Oh, yeah! I had wanted to read that, and here it is! That happened yesterday at the library when I found Robert Bloch's 1959 novel Psycho on the shelf. There. Next novel. After that? Something. Lots of somethings.

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A character moment

Late in The Empire Strikes Back, Han, Leia, and company seek what they think will be shelter in the mining complex Cloud City, which floats in the gorgeous cloudy skies of the gas giant Bespin. Turns out Cloud City's security force, flying around in those cool red twin-pod vehicles, is really wary of strange visitors and rides herd on the Millennium Falcon, even firing on the ship to keep its pilots in line. Han, understandably, is not happy about that.

I happened upon a video clip showing a rough cut of that scene, when editors were still refining it to what would be in the final film. Dialogue's a bit different — a changed line or two would be dubbed in later — and it includes a character moment that wasn't in the final film. As in the final cut, the security person transmits that the Falcon is cleared to land at so-and-so platform; unlike in the final cut, he keeps talking sternly to Han, until Han simply turns off the comm and cuts him off mid-sentence.

I like that. Of course Han Solo would have no Fs to give, even to those who could shoot him.

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Nicely done, ANCILLARY JUSTICE

First! First book of the year read! (I have to start somewhere...) I borrowed Ann Leckie's 2013 science fiction novel Ancillary Justice not knowing a thing about it, just knowing SF fans I know had recommended it. It's award-winning and it's Part One of a trilogy, so there's more I'll get to read later.

And the book pulls off a good, satisfying trick: it describes a future much different from ours, in the way artificial intelligence and humans are linked. As the back-cover blurb explains, the narrator/main character is an artificial intelligence which used to be housed in, literally, a spaceship, while also being linked to hundreds or even thousands of people, all of whose sensory inputs were being sent to that intelligence in that ship. The novel shows us that this character is not linked this way anymore — her connection to the ship was severed, the ship was destroyed, and she wound up experiencing things only through a single human body — and it flashes back to the events leading up to that severance, and early chapters alternate between that long flashback and the current events she's living through. It's complicated: complicated enough to suggest this vastly different future, but just — just — explained enough to make enough sense.

I knew at several moments in Ancillary Justice that I wasn't getting the full context of a moment. I also knew I didn't have to. Again, context enough: a hard trick to pull off in hard SF if you want to avoid lazy, "As you know, Bob" exposition.

Also, I've been told the other two books in the trilogy are at least a little and perhaps a lot easier to follow, so I'll look forward to reading Parts 2 and 3.

Meanwhile, my next books are Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp (The Land that Time Forgot) and a collection of Maya Angelou's poetry. Keepin' it varied!

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Tonight's travels were more extensive than today's travels, because during the day the farthest I went out was into the backyard to put glass bottles and aluminum cans into the recycling. So I'll write about tonight's travels! (Oh. I did write about today's travels, even if just for one sentence.)

So. Tonight's travels.

It's First Thursday, if a quiet one (not nearly as many galleries open in January), but I wanted to get out to Sequential Art Gallery for its latest show. Portland cartoonist Matt Bors, founder of the cartoons-and-stories site The Nib, is showing his political cartoons from the first year that Trump has been President Trump. The way Bors draws Trump's lips, I half-expect them to fly off his face and float around, like in a Terry Gilliam animation. You can see info about the show here; it's running through this month. Bors talked to attendees about the subtleties of political cartooning, such as thinking of things for cartoon-Trump to say that sound like what he'd really say but made slightly, slightly more absurd.

After the show, I wanted to find a doughnut shop. For years, even as Voodoo Doughnut got huge, Portland didn't really have all that many doughnut shops, but over the years I've become fond of Sesame Donuts. It's a small, family-owned chain, and it has expanded from its 24-hour location in Raleigh Hills in SW Portland (near Beaverton) to throughout the west end of the area: Sherwood, Tigard, and so on. Last year it opened a shop near Portland State University. Tonight I finally visited that one, after riding the Streetcar from the Pearl District (a few blocks away from Sequential Art) to PSU. I like supporting the chain, and now I've done it at another shop.

Slight weirdness on my way to Sesame, on the Streetcar: I was standing near a passenger's bicycle, and not too long before I was going to get off the car I noticed the bike wasn't hooked or connected to anything, and was about to start rolling. A fellow passenger and I tried to wake up the man nearest the bike, guessing and hoping it was his, but he at most stirred, not waking up. I wound up trying to keep his bike from rolling away from him, or rolling into him, and I felt weird about leaving when I did. That other passenger who helped me, to her credit, said she'd watch for a bit, make sure nothing bad happened to the bike.

And later, having seen art and gotten a doughnut, I lucked into the most convenient bus home and rode home. I managed all of this in the two-and-a-half-hour window provided by my bus ticket. Had I gotten on 20 minutes later, I would've needed a day pass, which is pricier. Budgeting!