What a goddamned year."





A wet, frigid, final evening out.


SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2020. May we recall its blustery wail, its penultimate tantrum before we all were forced inside again. Twenty-four hours earlier, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced another pending exile — she called it a “freeze,” like we’re naughty kids playing “Tag” (and maybe we are) — for her constituents. Mother Nature celebrated the news by tearing into her trick bag, whipping the year’s symbolic pestilence into a living torrential metaphor. Pelting slashes of rain and a gently whipping wind. We haven’t quite hit winter yet, but fuggit, mang: Here’s a soaking blast fer yer ass.

So this was it, the Last Saturday Night. I haven’t experienced many Saturday-night-type Saturday nights in quite some time — not since February, when Dave Wilson and I hit Dante’s in Portland for a scorching Madwagon bill. We didn't know then how lucky we were, how rare. A few weeks later, the world went to hell, I landed in the hospital, and humanity itself took a shamefully sour detour. We gleefully swapped dimensions with our more disgusting natures. And here we were now, older, dumber, and walking seven blocks in the rain.

Yet I love downtown at night. I’m reminded of an older Albany and a younger me, spending my weekends at the Venetian Theater, a nectar of promise in the air. I was in my early 20s, a neophyte journalist, my reporter’s notebook an extra limb in my jacketed right mitt, pacing the dance floor around the stage while scribbling adjectives in real-time reactions to guitar solos. From the upstairs balcony I’d nurse a beer, cloaked in Day-Glo Red Dog neon, and contemplate the ’90s as they crashed to their inevitable denouement: shattered dreams in a cum-stained dress.

Downtown seems newer now, cleaner. Yet I miss the decay, those buildings’ historic bones rotting in place. The town had character. Open wounds. Interesting smells, not all of them pleasant. The Olde Towne Café, where I was a broke writer with a tab, now a high-end salon. The wine joints and heady restaurants attract a better class of highbrow, but I wonder what happened to the artists, freaks, and degenerates I called friends. Some of us, like me, became respectable, boring, with better haircuts and pointier shoes. The rest were pursued to the fringes, hounded away by the new affluence. Albany was never kind to the creative classes, anyway, desperate to snuff anything too weird. It killed the Venetian. It killed whole blocks, pricing out the people who gave the area its color, replacing them with a mundane “weird” it found more palatable. In what should be a Dali-esque tapestry, Albany’s a still life of a molding lemon.

The Natty Dresser's sartorial twilight.
Supper's ready at the Albany Antique Mall.

That part of the city’s best explored after dark, when shadows line facades and alleys act their age, scarred with brick and puddles. The Natty Dresser nears its consumption of the former Riley’s Pub space. The Albany Antique Mall broadcasts kitsch-laden decades through its windows. What remains of local misfits loiters on corners or props up tavern walls. I pass four outside Chaser’s Bar & Grill, the kind of place typically seen in ’70s films. Two stand guard at the entrance while the others huddle at the building’s south end, quietly watching YouTube on a smartphone. It resembles a neighborhood watering hole, with perhaps a weathered bartender, video poker, and a single television behind its doors.

After cutting through residential swathes and semi-industrial nools, I reach my destination: the Calapooia Brewing Company, where beer's born and served under names like Pooya Porter, Caber Toss Scotch, Ground Zero Pale, and Devil’s Hole Stout. But I’m not here for alcohol. Sadly, those days are gone — and not because of an aversion to the stuff or forced abstinence. I had a lot of good times with an amber to my lips, grooving between these walls to Terry Geil’s Nirvana cover band, Bleach; J.D. Monroe, Paul Kincaid, and Dave Trenkel’s Rush cover band, Why Why Zed; and the Vicki Stevens Band, who tore the dump to kindling with blues. But eight months after my stroke, I fret over hops’ proximity to my flagging brain. I steer clear of the ’Pooia kitchen, too: a hospital-enforced diet keeps those sweet, fatty nachos, burgers, and sour-creamed onion cancers at a wistful distance. So I stand in line — everyone 6 feet apart, of course — for a goddamn glass of water.

Tonight’s entertainment waits on the patio outside: Robert Meade’s “Beatles Unplugged” — one man, one acoustic acoustic guitar, and one hell of a songbook. As protection from the unyielding coronavirus, he performs behind a face shield and we, his audience, observe from strategically placed benches and tables. It’s kind of a shame that he’s performing outdoors, because while we’re all protected from the rain, it’s fucking cold.

I spy an old friend, Westy Weaver, at a table with friends near a slightly effective heat source. I haven’t seen her in about a year, when we all were astronomically different people with bright futures. We’d both been clobbered by the year, flirted with death, danced with horror. “Is it OK to hug?” she asks. Why the hell not? I join the party and meet two

new people. Imagine that in 2020: communion with strangers in a public place, listening to another human being belt “Hey Jude” less than 20 feet away. It's as I’ve always dreamed. An un-Zoomable idyll destined for destruxtion. Hell, the 10 of us In that space sing with him, bombarding his sequestered germs with ours.

Strangely, the evening’s highlight isn’t Meade’s take on “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which he somehow renders more surreal and sinister in an acoustic setting (I’ve always found it to be one of The Beatles’ more ominous nightmares), but the three older women in the audience who loudly wonder if we're warmer where we were sitting. We encourage them to sit with us — maintaining the proper gaps, of course; we're not Philistines — prompting a much more convivial atmosphere. We use their phones to take pictures of them together, laugh at their ridiculous poses, and raptly listen to their stories about failed wineries, divorces, the Mafia, wild animals, and caddying for Jack Nicklaus in their youth. I couldn’t remember such an unprompted, warm, free-

Robert Meade does his best Paul McCartney.

flowing exchange in all of 2020, a year determined to kill us. For a moment, it feels like the 20th century.

“I’ve missed this,” Westy tells me afterward. I have, too. Booze and The Beatles, rescuing humanity again.

Afterward, we say our goodbyes and burrow into the wet, chattering night. Back through the heart of downtown I trek, reveling in the sounds of my soggy home, steeling myself for the "freeze."

Adieu to all that for a while. Catch you at the living end of this beautiful madness.

"And in the end

The love you take

Is equal to the love you make."

Saturday night at the Calapooia.