We had a fun, busy New Year’s Eve, just the three of us and Mouse the Cat.
Our dinner was take out pizza from Straight from from New York, just a block away on Belmont. It was, as always, delicious, with a nice bottle of local Columbia Crest Red Blend wine. We watched a Jim Gaffigan comedy special and discovered Ari Eldjarn, an Icelandic stand up comedian. Honestly, he is delightful.
But we knew that if we sat on the couch, we would never make it to midnight. So we worked on the newest picture puzzle, a particularly difficult impressionist painting of a rainy, reflective street scene. It has 1,000 pieces! It will take a while.
Auntie Bridgett and I kept up our tradition of making New Year’s Hats from used Christmas wrapping paper. My first idea of a newsboys’ cap totally failed, because, well, paper isn’t fabric. I went for a simpler tam sort of cap, which I was pretty happy with.
We had a FaceTime chat with Auntie Katie and the cousins, who were working on their own puzzle.
Auntie Bridgett made a fabulous wig out of snowman wrapping paper! The framework underneath was thin cardboard stapled together, and the wig had really good movement.
And of course, Mouse had a fun evening. She sat on our laps when we were on the couch, attacked stray bits of wrapping paper and finally just took over the trash bag. She was confused that we stayed up so late!
At midnight we watched the Ball drop in New York City and I stepped out on the rainy balcony to hear all the cheers and fireworks up and down the street. This has been a difficult, disorienting year. 2021 will be better if we let it.
Yesterday was Christmas Eve. Auntie Bridgett was working at the art gallery and I was getting the house cleaned up for Christmas Day. At about 3:00, I walked to “Straight out of New York” to pick up our traditional Christmas Eve pizza. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a selection.
I texted Auntie Bridgett about the situation. Maybe “Pizzacato”, the pizza place closer to the gallery, could do better. Their website said they were open Christmas Eve until 4:00. I let Grandpa Nelson what I was doing and walked as quickly as I could up to Burnside Street to check it out.
I saw Johnny, a very pleasant homeless fellow, outside Whole Foods with his cart and “Merry Christmas” sign. I said I was off to buy pizza, and could I buy him a slice or two?
“Honey, they’re closed,” he said. “They haven’t been open all day. I was gonna get my dinner there, too.” He seemed worried. “Where’re you gonna get your dinner?”
“Oh, we’ll figure something out, I guess,” I assured him. “You?”
“I’ll head to the Pearl. There’s a nice Chinese place there.” He smiled and we wished each other Merry Christmas, and I headed to the gallery to talk with Auntie Bridgett.
“You know,” she said, “We have a lot of food at the house. There’s sausage and cheese and crackers, fruit and veggies and fruitcake. We can make a buffet!”She was right, and that was what we decided to do.
Meanwhile, it was an hour before the gallery closed. I looked at the art, she tidied and organized. At about quarter to five, she noticed a box of cookies someone had given to the gallery to share, but no one had eaten any. “They’re going to go stale,” she said. “We ought to toss them out.”
But with so many people without even a proper supper, that felt wrong. I took the box and went looking to offer Johnny cookies to have after his Chinese dinner, but I couldn’t find him. I figured he had already caught the bus to the Pearl.
Unwilling to leave without giving the cookies to someone, I walked to the Laurelhurst Theater where a lady named Jennifer makes her camp. She has all sorts of health problems but refuses to leave the outdoor life. I offered her the cookies and we chatted. She showed me her new down sleeping bag, donated by a generous person. She was having a merry Christmas, she said.
Heading back to the gallery, I spotted Johnny. I told him about the cookies and Jennifer. He smiled sadly, knowing her story better than I did. Then his face lit up. “Hey, I was thinking of you,” he said, and held up a bag from Whole Foods. “I went in to the market to get a cup of coffee and the folks there gave me this for Christmas.” I opened the bag. It was full of unopened packages of sausage, cheese, and bread. “I thought about you not having your pizza, and I’ve got my dinner already. Would you like this?”
I was stunned at his kindness. This fellow who sleeps in the cold by his shopping cart had come into extra food and worried that I wouldn’t have a dinner. He really was the good soul I thought he was.
I smiled. “No, thanks, we got it figured out. Maybe you could share with Jennifer?”
He shook his head. “She don’t eat cheese or meat,” he said. “I’ve offered her lots, but she just eats sweets, her cigarettes, and her wine.” We were both sad, thinking of Jennifer, sick and stubborn. He reached behind him and put the bag of food on a small sidewalk table, part of the Covid conscious outside dining area of a darkened restaurant. “I’m going to leave this here. The fellas will come by later. They’ll find it.” I figured he meant other homeless folks, and asked, “How will they find it?”
“They’re pretty thorough,” he grinned. “Well, thanks again for the offer,” I said. “Have a Merry Christmas.”
“You too,” he said.
And we parted company, with me wondering at the sweet strangeness of it. Each of us was trying to take care of someone else, and were richer because of it.
It felt very Good King Wenceslas. And that’s not a bad feeling.
One of the reasons we bought the house we did, here in the Southeast part of Portland, is because of the neighborhood. It is a nice mix of Victorian style homes and newer houses, full of big trees and rhododendron bushes, and just a few blocks away from fabulous Laurelhurst Park.
It is also close to dozens of bars, restaurants, and cool shops, and even a Korean grocery store. We love being able to walk less than a block for milk or eggs at H Mart.
But it is the little restaurants and the people who run them that make our Friday nights special. Pulled pork, shrimp with grits, a glass of wine while hanging with David at at the Hobnob. Watching scifi movies and having dessert with Mitch at The Nerd Out. Street tacos and chatting with Gilly at Ankeny Tap and Table. Making our own birthday pancakes at SlappyCakes. You know, the good times.
And it is exactly these small restaurants that are suffering during the shut down mandated by the corona virus. Keeping everyone safe and distant means the dining rooms have to close, and there just isn’t enough take-out business.
The only businesses close by that are doing well are H Mart and the smaller convenience stores like Plaid Pantry and Belmont Market, and pizza places like Baby Doll and Straight From New York Pizza, who are doing take out and even free delivery.
I am worried about a lot of things, lately. Staying healthy, and keeping Auntie Bridgett and Grandpa Nelson well. What this virus’s stay in our country will cost in jobs and retirement investments. Whether our Federal government, which doesn’t seem to have a good grasp on things, is going to make things better instead of worse.
But I am also worried about the survival of the small businesses that make our neighborhood special.