Two aesthetics exist: the passive aesthetic of mirrors and the active aesthetic of prisms. Guided by the former, art turns into a copy of the environment’s objectivity or the individual’s psychic history. Guided by the latter, art is redeemed, makes the world into its instrument, and forges — beyond spatial and temporal prisons — a personal vision.
-- Jorge Luis Borges, from the Ultra Manifesto (1918)
I read this to Christine, my server, as she sat a glass of Ruby Red ale on its coaster. She nodded and smiled, politely, before rushing back to the kitchen. We weren’t friends, I was just a regular doing what seemed like a very boring art project. I sat in my booth at McMenamin’s Blue Moon on 21st and Glisan, and it was the 3rd of my 72 hours I would spend in that booth last month. I mean 72 hours in a row, without leaving. I was conducting an experiment, a kind of immobile visionquest, only with beer and Cajun tots. I’ve come to love that booth more than any Mt. Hood hilltop or Gorge vantage point. I know, that’s Portland blasphemy. I fear not your pitchforks. I sat there for 3 days straight, only leaving it for bathroom breaks. The booth is number T-5. I’ve been told that’s what they call me now.
Speaking of cajun tots, Christine, I need some hot sauce. Thanks.
At twilight, the glow of the neon beer sign and streetlight turn the window into a one-way mirror and I became invisible. An observer watching the rhythms of the corner I know so well. The back of a neon sign is often more beautiful than its front: a latticework of thin glass tubes, expertly mapped to looping vowels and swashes, manufactured language in three-dimensions. I love that is a kind of perfect opposition to it’s front, metal bones, dusty wires, and toxic paint, pure function. I like to try and match the tone of its buzz with my own voice, harmonizing with electric hum.
See, the Blue Moon management and I came to an agreement--I would buy at least $80 worth of their bar fare per day (not including gratuity), and every night around 2:30 am, when the last server left, I’d slide under the table until the lights were turned off, after which point I’d slink back up to my booth and stay very, very still until the morning server arrived. By the second day they forgot I was there and seeing a human shape already in a booth surprised the shit out of ‘em. Sorry, Christine.
Portland itself is vibrant, verdant green, chlorophyllic life year-round from rain and rich soil, and a palpable lack of car horns. On the window, there are patterns in the rivulets of rain. Each bead of water refracted the world, an inverted crystal ball where the city’s life exists in reverse and upside-down. I got very close to the glass, until I could feel the cold on the tip of my nose. Everything else blurred. Paused. The droplet enveloped me, the din of that tiny universe filling my ears. I could smell its streets, understand its cryptic street signs and decipher its inverted language. A flock of crows disappeared behind a corner. A couple walked backwards, holding hands as a single apple hopped off the street back into their grocery bag. I wondered if the denizens of that droplet world could see our own, colossal-and-backward in the dome of their miniature sky. Or maybe they only have other, smaller cities in droplets clinging to their windows, left nothing but memory on wednesday mornings when the window-washer arrives, determined, squeegee in hand.
I had a bowl of lemon-chicken soup and a cup of caffeine. Christine the server asked if I wanted some coffee with my sugar. Good one, Christine.
Windows are thresholds. Membranes. As is the meniscus-dome of every raindrop. Gazing through my window, I watched a young, stylish woman walk by briskly, clean Air Maxes and a long sweatshirt, Alexander Wang. The umbrella handle poking out of her tote bag signalled "transplant." I could see through the surface of her, a folded prism. It was a crystalline facsimile of human form beneath her skin and clothes, in each of her thousand prism-planes, a world. One plane was a room of books, every book she’s ever read, stacked in impossible piles. The most recently read were on top: social media marketing, self-motivation, brand strategy. She used to read Atwood, Marquez, LeGuin. From my booth, I could see past a gently folded corner of her, which revealed another sharp triangle. It was a childhood memory: a pop-up book, hastily colored in pastel crayon, populated with plastic versions of friends, parents, a younger brother she doesn’t talk to anymore. Below that, obsidian marbled with the golden lines of a kintsugi bowl. They moved, lava-like, and I could hear wind or wolves howling over the smooth black surface.
I ate an Aztec chicken salad for dinner. I love the crunch of those tortilla strips. When I waved my hand to get Christine’s attention she pretended I wasn’t there. Come on, Christine. I had no idea what day it was.
Fleetwood Mac played on the jukebox, everyone else in the bar was singing in unison with Stevie Knicks.
“Now here I go again, I see the crystal visions,
I keep my visions to myself, it's only me,
Who wants to wrap around your dreams and,
Have you any dreams you'd like to sell?”
An old man walked past, wheeling a rolled-up Persian rug in a rickety Fred Meyers shopping cart. A plastic-metal rattle was a drumbeat. The rug was faded, a tired rainbow of ancient fabric and filthy fringe. There was a world in that threadbare rug with its ornamental flourishes and hand-dyed geometry. My veins were its threads, my mind its woven intersections, knots crafted by delicate fingers half a world away, centuries ago. By this point, I had lost all sense of time, and as that man’s body and cart stretched across my vision like a slit-scan photograph, he looked at me and smiled a toothless grin. I gave a stunted wave and finished a chicken strip, exhausted. It was the third day already.
A prism, a palimpsest, a Persian rug in a shopping cart. I sat in that booth for 3 days last month, then I decided not to leave. In fact, I’m still there, watching water droplets, traveling the facets of strangers and exploring trash tapestries from my window. Christine doesn’t notice me anymore. None of the servers do, it’s like I’ve become a part of the decor. But I’m still there, and, if you ever make it to that Blue Moon on 21st and Glisan, I’ll be in booth T-5, in the corner by the window. Come sit with me.
Shot and cut by Searle Video.