by Tony “Glamortramp” LeTigre
The Black Ice Holiday
By Tony “Glamortramp” LeTigre
The Great Portland Ice Storm of January 2005 – if you were there, you remember. It stopped us all in our tracks for three days: the City of Roses frozen, a sublime interruption. Only the foolish complained. The news called it “the worst in decades,” but was it not the best?
Some fluke of nature caused it, a combination of rare snowfall and rain and below-freezing and above-freezing temperatures in rapid succession. The rain formed a brittle crust over the half-melted snow, preserving it, and changed from liquid to solid so abruptly that it froze in pools, wrapping all the city in a crystalline blizzard blanket, inches thick in places.
It was beautiful. Like that brilliant passage in Orlando where Woolf lets go the kite-string of her imagination and the text soars into fairy-tale homo romance and pirouetting ballerinas and gems of former queens and birds freezing solid in mid-air, dropping to earth like snow-globes, shattered.
It really was kind of like that.
Beautiful, but difficult to navigate. Absolutely everything coated in ice, the roads and sidewalks a risk for drivers and pedestrians alike, black ice on the roads, traction impossible. You skated to the bus stop in your shoes, clutching any nearby object for support, laughing at yourself and the hilarious sight of others slipping and sliding and stumbling and tumbling along just the same, as if the whole city was shit-faced drunk at the same time, in the middle of the day, clumsily blundering home.
Even the airport was closed. The TV showed images of jets welded to the ground like popsicles. And when you finally reached the bus stop, you discovered the busses were completely off schedule, running absurdly late, or not at all. No school, no work, everything at a standstill. No one in Portland knew how to handle even a couple inches of snow, once in a blue moon when they fell – let alone this arctic anomaly.
So you gave up waiting for the bus, and turned back for the Ragamuffin House, realizing the folly of rushing back to business-as-usual when blessed with this glacial vacation, a perfect excuse to lay aside responsibility and overdue papers and that coffee date you weren’t really in the mood for and that interview for the job you probably wouldn’t have liked anyway, and curl up on one of the shabby comfy couches in the Ragamuffin living room, with a stack of books at your elbow, good friends close by, gazing out the window at blurry colors and shapes, the window frosted like a cake, translucent at best, beautifully adorned with hoarfrost in heavenly profusion, as if a retinue of miniature elf artisans had spent ages etching and sculpting and embroidering every window, every pane of glass, every visible surface with delicate tracery that glinted diamond-like in the sunlight – when in fact it had appeared miraculously and suddenly, arriving with the storm: an overnight sensation.
“Whorefrost,” said Kyle. “The frost of whores.”
“Also called white frost,” you added.
“White frost and black ice,” said he.
“The White Frost Blizzard,” said thee.
“The Black Ice Holiday.”
“You can lead a whore to frosting, but you can’t lick her clean.”
“What?” Kyle laughed.
“Don’t you know that Dorothy Parker quote, about horticulture?”
You were at home among the Ragamuffins. It was one of those communal Portland art houses you will never find on a tourist map, many of them registering quite high on the Domestic Queerness Index (which really should exist): The Devil Doll House, The Broken Down Palace, The Sad Clown Posse, Le Moulin Beige, La Casa Mejor Que Cielo, Queensbane, Pansy Manor, Fagsdale, Ebony Gables, The Crib of All Colors, Shamrock Shack, The Pink Pirate Palace, The Periwinkle Church, The Den of Equality, Chez Très Gay, Soupy Kitchens, The Best Little Warehouse in Puddletown, Trannywood, A Castle Called Home, Stumptown Revisited, The Tin Roof Ranch, Eaves of Sass, Withering Slights, The House That Dare Not Speak Its Name, The Bulldyke Bourbon Mansion.
Lisa, one of the Bulldyke Bourbons, was also at the Ragamuffin House during the ice storm, you and her stranded in tandem, and delightfully so. Lisa was a bull-dyke and liked her bourbon. You had always gotten along famously with her, that special bond shared by drunken faggots and lesbians since time immemorial.
Like crimson and clover, coffee and cream, leather and lace, whiskey and soda, Bette and Joan, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, Andy and Edie, Tom and Goldberry, Leatherface and Sally, Vita and Virginia, Mothra and her tiny twin girlfriends, popcorn and movie, brown sugar and old spice.
The Ragamuffin gang was sprinkled throughout the house and grounds.
Jonah was doing something in the garage involving the carboys they’d used last month to make mead – Ragamuffin Honey Mead with honey from Jonah’s bees in their own backyard (it wouldn’t be ready to drink for another month or two).
Violet Ragamuffin was playing an Elliott Smith song on the piano, which had a few out-of-tune keys that lent charm, like the knee-patch on an old pair of jeans.
Cecil, the anarchist crusader, was in the kitchen nattering about Godwin and Kropotkin and Tolstoy and Emma Goldman and the Spanish Civil War and Noam Chomsky and Chumbawamba.
Maria Obispo, who was preparing dinner in the kitchen, didn’t seem to mind listening to Cecil’s name-dropping diatribe of philosophy and propaganda while she peeled red potatoes with a blue-handled knife, French-pressed her coffee, added bouillon to the soup kettle, moved the compost bin to the door.
A few months later, Maria Obispo will die during a solo backpacking trip in the Klamath Mountains after apparently trying to ford a rain-swollen river following an unexpected storm.
Twenty-five seconds to live and I’m falling down
There the darling goes, magnetics that are pulling her down
Twenty-five seconds to live and I’m waving high!
You will forever associate Maria’s death with a song by Mates of State you’ll hear about the same time, “Parachutes (The Funeral Song).”
But what I had between the things I never tried
Was you reaching out in hopes to hold your hand
Forces that make your way down
I’d say I’m better ‘cause I lived before I died
Maria, who was always so self-contained and respectful of silence and whose possessions were so few and compact that her sudden absence will be subtle, almost imperceptible, adding to the feeling that she’s still in the house, doing something quiet in the other room that’s just taking a long time.)
At the kitchen table sat Roy with his granny spectacles and carefully cultivated beard and sideburns, his pint-sized ukelele, country-bumpkin overalls, lumpy hat, heatedly insisting to his skeptical friend Rob that he is not, in fact, a hipster, due to an extensive catalog of fine and not-so-fine distinctions that he would be happy to relate at length.
Rob and Roy Ragamuffin.
“But the thing is, anti-hipsters are still hipsters, in a way,” argued Rob. “It’s a subset.”
“I KNOW, and I hate that!” cried Roy, clawing his forehead in anguish – a prisoner of his own conflicted hipness.
Second to last, Molly Ragamuffin, who had only recently joined the roster, sitting on the couch in her cardigan, stoned and staring out the window at the weird winter wonderland as she attempted to arrange her chronically disordered thoughts. Graham was coming over at 3:00. Molly had a big crush on Graham. It was almost 3:00 now, she was pretty sure. (Molly’s mother was friends with Gus Van Sant, though she didn’t make a big deal of it.) Or maybe it was only 2:00? She’d left her cellphone upstairs. (The pot helped her focus, Molly insisted.) What if it was after 3:00, and Graham had stood her up? Or possibly he’d been delayed by the ice storm. But couldn’t he have called? Molly gnawed her fingernail anxiously, looked wildly around the room for a clock, but the kitchen was the closest. She would have to leave the couch.
Last and loveliest of the Ragamuffins, of course, Kyle, your old, good, close friend Kyle, more like a brother than a friend sometimes, more like a lover than a brother other times: the hot, incestuous gay brother of every red-blooded American boy’s wet dreams!
(In the alternate universe you often inhabit: The JohnWaters-verse.)
You and Kyle stepped out onto the porch. Lisa sat in the porch hammock, cellphone in one hand, lowball of bourbon in the other, lit cigarette between her highly active lips. Her breath made clouds in the crisp cold air.
“JEN, HONEY, YOU’VE JUST GOT TO STOP!” she shouted into the phone. Her voice rang down the block and echoed back. A flock of pigeons took flight.
Maria Obispo was a quiet person; Lisa was the opposite.
“So incredibly beautiful,” Kyle said, looking out at the neighborhood. “Like the whole city in a snow-globe, or….”
Ice was all. The street was a solid sheet of it. Trees wore sleeves and dresses of it. It frosted windows, glazed windshields, powdered grass, ornamented rooftops, hung like glass beads and frozen teardrops from every ledge and cornice, dazzled the eyes in the late afternoon sunlight. All was ice.
It was a poem, this day, all of them, the Three-Day Wonder. Poetry had seized control of the universe. Shakespeare had overthrown the laws of physics, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Federal Reserve Bank, the White House, and the Pentagon. They were at the mercy of a lovely and lyrical dictator who would force them to take a break and look around, to believe in magic and in their own enjoyment of being alive, with or without their consent.
“Like a glass replica of the whole world,” you finished Kyle’s sentence.
“YOU DID WHAAAAAAAAAAT?” Lisa screamed, leaping up from the hammock. Her previous remark had been a whisper compared to this outburst. Her vocal explosion knocked icicles from ledges and children from their bicycles. It scared cats into bushes and cracked a big sheet of ice. It caused a hobo to lose his balance and fall flat on his ass, spilling his last can of malt liquor. Its tremors were felt as far as Northwest 23rd Street, OMSI, the Rose Gardens, and Southeast Hawthorne. (But not Gresham.)
“Whose is this?” you asked, picking up a leather bracelet from the porch rail.
Kyle shrugged. “Yours, if you want it. It’s been there for a while I think.”
“Is it a bracelet or a cock ring?”
Kyle laughed. “Depends on your mood, I guess.”
“I guess that makes me the boy with the Arab strap.”
Lisa, having a telephone lull, came over and checked the ledge and all around it. “Hey, has anyone seen my cock ring? It was just here….”
She was a funny one, that Lisa Bulldyke Bourbon.
“This one isn’t big enough for your cock,” Kyle told her.
“Damn straight,” said Lisa, swigging from her ever-present glass. She was like Julian from Trailer Park Boys with that damn glass.
Kyle remembered something. “I’ve got to play you my new music.”
He led you back indoors, up the stairs, to his bedroom. On the way you passed Molly’s room.
Molly was on the bed with Graham, who had shown up promptly at 3:00. Molly got up and closed her bedroom door, making a sexy-eyebrow face to you boys just before she did so.
Behind the closed door Molly and Graham listened to pleasant music – Thievery Corporation and My Bloody Valentine (“Soft as Snow but Warm Inside”) and lay on the bed together. They exchanged caresses. Molly sat up and removed her top, uttering an imitation monkey cry as she tossed it to the floor: Tarzana, Queen of the Jungle of Love!
Humor was the best ice-breaker.
“Is it just me, or is it getting sexy in here?” Graham said, doffing his jersey in turn.
“Should I close the curtain?” Molly fretted.
Why worry? The neighbors weren’t watching, and even if they were they couldn’t see much, because the window was frosted like a cake, with a frosting of a million tiny velvet snowflakes and intricate glassy spiderwebs and ice, ice baby.
Hard to believe.
All of it gone, without a trace, just a few days later.