Backroads Bookscouting: Old Portland

Finally!

Thanks to the new job, we actually could afford a road trip. A long weekend on the road, anyway. And I knew exactly where we should go.

“Portland,” I told Julie. “To see Chris and Tracy.”

So we were off. We decided to do it in two steps, because we’d have to leave late Friday night in order to avoid spending most of Saturday on the interstate, and we didn’t want to burst in on Chris and Tracy at one AM. So we figured we’d get south of Olympia and then find a cheap motel to crash in and finish up the drive in the morning.

Plus, it let us have breakfast in Kalama.

We love Kalama. There are all sorts of cool junk shops and antique malls there, and though we didn’t really have time to stop, we made it a point to have breakfast at the the Columbia Inn. Best breakfast you’ll find on I-5, and yeah, it even beats the Rib-Eye a few miles further north. We have gotten in the habit of avoiding I-5 the last few years, so it had been a while. But the Columbia breakfasts are, thankfully, as awesome as ever.

We had forgotten that it is also home to the Maddening Puzzle.

They leave these at the tables to, one assumes, torment bleary-eyed truckers and other such folks. Certainly, it has tormented us for years, since our first visit to the Columbia Inn a decade ago. You fill the holes with the white pegs, all but one, and then jump the pegs like checkers, removing each ‘jumped’ peg until there is only one left. The key is obviously choosing which hole to leave vacant initially, but so far it has us beaten. Julie is better at it than I am but even she always gets left with three pegs. I occasionally toy with looking up the solution online — and no doubt one of our commenters will — but please, don’t tell me. I feel stupid enough already.

After breakfast it was off to Chris and Tracy’s house in Vancouver.

I’ve known Chris Kohler for — criminy, I think it must be eighteen years now. He was one of the first CBR folks I met in person, at my first-ever San Diego Comic-Con, and even then, he was a remarkable illustrator. Since then he’s gone on to a number of different projects, including the award-winning Sentinels, and though a lot of us have turned pro in one venue or another since the CBR barbecue days, I believe he is the first of our old Mission Beach Mafia to have a book actually named after him.

Back when we were just a couple of nerds with ambition we occasionally talked about working together, and though we’ve both amassed a fair number of professional credits since that first con, and even been in the same magazine, we never collaborated on anything.

…until now.

It happened like this. Chris had been grumping about being sick of spandex and wanting something grittier to work on. I told Chris that the ‘new pulp’ gang are always looking for good illustrators, and recommended him to my editor at Airship 27 (and was highly amused to find my editor was already a huge fan; rather breathlessly, he asked me if I really thought we could afford him, I mean he’s CHRIS KOHLER!) This amused Chris even more than me, since of course no one is getting rich off this stuff… not even my editor or his editor. Anyway, it was no trouble to put them together and soon Chris was hard at work on A27’s Comanche Blood. Then after that job was done and they asked him what he wanted to do next, Chris told them he wanted a shot at Hatcher’s weird-Western project.

This was a novel I’d been thinking about for a while and finally wrote last year, a story about a cult magician in 1870s eastern Oregon, and how his former acolytes saddle up to put a stop to his Lovecraftian nastiness… sort of mashing up The Magnificent Seven with Dr. Strange, with a side of Cthulhu Mythos.

Underneath it, though, I was also thinking about the creepy cultlike college honors program I’d been involved in back in the 1980s, and how badly messed up many of us ended up as a result of it… four dead of drug abuse and/or AIDS, half a dozen more ending up in rehab, etc., etc. It was like a magnet for damaged people (and I certainly don’t exempt myself.) I am still in touch with a couple of my fellow survivors of that experience and one of them, Anne-Elizabeth, is also a writer and editor these days. I asked her if she minded me borrowing her personality and appearance to ‘cast’ her in this weird-western take on our college dramas, and she was delighted. So I supplied Chris with photo reference and we were off.

Thus my secret agenda. “I think we should take Chris and Tracy to dinner with Anne,” I told Julie. “He’s been doing great just from the photos but he should meet her and see her talk and move. And she’s been so over the moon about the pictures so far, he’d enjoy her appreciation, I think. Anyway we’ve had a standing offer to stay with them for a couple of years now if we’re ever down that way. We can call it a business trip or an editorial conference or something so it’ll even be a write-off… and then goof off the rest of the weekend, go to Cameron’s, noodle around, whatever.”

I can’t really talk about the project much more yet except to tell you it’s called THE SILVER RIDERS and it’ll be out next year. I can tell you, though, that dinner was a huge success. We had never met Chris’s wife Tracy and he had only met Julie once, for about ninety seconds, when we ran into one another on the street in Seattle after a Tubes show. So it was a little funny, and maybe disturbing, to find that Tracy and Julie were as much peas in a pod (both arts-and-crafts ladies who are much more comfortable staying home of an evening and working on a project, and both from Italian families who think feeding someone is the first and best solution to a problem) as has been said of Chris and myself. The women were largely content to let Chris and me natter on about all areas of popular culture and genre fiction, with Anne occasionally interjecting. Chris even gifted Anne with one of his originals for the book, a portrait of “Doctor Lisbet” that she immediately went home and framed and hung in her writing nook.

He also surprised Julie and me with another of the originals. I love this one because Chris made it a point to sneak in some of the eastern Oregon desert landscape, which is one of the reasons I wanted to put the story there. I always wished someone would set a Western in the high desert country around John Day, near the Painted Hills, and finally I did it myself. It’s such a strange, alien-looking place, it’s the perfect setting for a weird West novel.

It’s killing me that I can’t run the whole set of illustrations here, and I probably shouldn’t even be running these, but I had to share a little. Because my GAWD he is just crushing it. Look at that amazing brushwork. You’ll see when the book comes out.

That was really all we did on Saturday; eat hugely and catch up with old friends. Sunday morning we said goodbye to the Kohlers and went to have breakfast with Mark and Molly, old high school friends of mine, in Multnomah Village. I won’t bore you all with that since there is little of interest to anyone that wasn’t attending Lakeridge High School in the late 1970s.

But Multnomah Village itself is amazing. I don’t know how this Portland neighborhood eluded my notice for forty years, but we loved it.

Mark and Molly had assured us that the Fat City Cafe was EXACTLY our kind of place, and indeed it was. But even better, it’s next door to Annie Bloom’s Books.

All new books, nothing used, but it was so fiercely indie we were completely in love with it anyway.

I ended up falling for this collection, The Spy’s Bedside Book, in a brand-new edition.

bookscout

This book actually came out in 1957, and it’s a wonderful sort of primer to spy fiction of all kinds, along with a few actual memoirs of true-life espionage.

bookscout

After that, I asked Julie what she wanted to do. “The Sock Ladies!” she responded, instantly.

Every year at Emerald City Comic-Con, this is the display my wife loves visiting more than any other. She adores browsing the Sock Dreams booth with the same fervor that I do Randy’s Readers Comics. For my bride, getting to visit the mothership store in old Sellwood was going to verge on a religious experience.

And it really is a cute little shop.

Julie had been hoarding about sixty dollars in birthday money from her sister and she shot the works. It was completely endearing.

I had tried to talk her into at least one novelty pair, and the Spock-ear socks almost made the cut, but in the end she got mostly soft, comfortable orthopedic socks. “For work,” she insisted. Julie firmly believes that no other sock alleviates the pain of being on her feet all day, and whether that’s psychosomatic or not, the socks work for her, so what the hell.

As it happens I had a little pilgrimage of my own I wanted to make, another nostalgia errand from my ill-spent college years in the eighties.

When Anne-Elizabeth and I and so many others were screwing up our lives during our time in the honors program, quite a few of us were into the local music scene– which was about four feet wide, everybody knew everybody (and everyone had a Courtney Love story, too; even Mark and Molly have one, and they were emphatically NOT scenesters back in the day.) The most famous of those stories was immortalized in the documentary Kurt and Courtney; the snarky interview with Courtney’s former boyfriend Rozz Rezabek.

Well, we used to go see Rozz’s band Theatre of Sheep all the time when I was in college.

And their Old Flames CD is still in pretty heavy rotation in the car. (You can find several cuts from it up on YouTube.) This one is probably my favorite of those, they used to close the show with it.

My friend Randy used to drink with Brian, the drummer, and Brian would let us tape off the sound board at gigs, so we had a fair collection of live bootleg Sheep cassettes. Additionally, my old friend Joe knew Jimi the guitarist from gigs they’d done in Eugene, and my fellow honors alum Cagney knew Rozz from the Portland scene. (Like I was saying, the punk band subculture back then was about four feet across. More incestuous than comics, even, and that’s saying something.)

On social media last year I’d somehow connected with Rozz– through Cagney, I think– and found he was running a funky thrift shop in east Portland. We had corresponded a little here and there (he was interested in tracing the sort of odd almost-connection we had from knowing a lot of the same people. He didn’t remember Joe, Randy, or me, but he remembered Joe’s then-girlfriend from the band J. Gallows, whom I’d completely forgotten. And so on.) Anyway, what with Julie’s and my predilection for thrift shops, it seemed like a natural that we should look in on Rozz.

Sadly, Area 41 was closed.

We were disappointed, because apart from not getting to say hello to Rozz the store looked like completely our kind of place, judging from what we could see.

Rozz told me later we should have called, he’d have opened up for us. Next visit, for sure.

Anyway, since we were on the east side, we figured we’d amble on down Hawthorne and see what was up. Which is how we ended up at the snootiest hipster Goodwill I’ve ever seen in my life.

Since it was only a block or so from the eastside branch of Powell’s Books, I wasn’t surprised to see there was very little there in the way of books.

They did have a copy of The Rolling Stone Interviews there, and since I kind of had the old rock scene on my mind from visiting Area 41, I bought it.

So far, though, the bookscouting had been slim pickings. Fortunately, we still had Cameron’s to visit.

I have documented, in several previous columns, the wonders of Cameron’s Books. It’s not as huge as Powell’s, not as classy as Elliott Bay or Annie Bloom’s, and especially since they were forced to board up the display windows, it kind of looks like a dump.

But that’s what I love about it. It’s still the same old junk shop where you can walk in with five dollars and walk out with a library. I used to hide out there a lot when I was in high school and college and it is still the same comfortably dusty old place it was then.

My first look is always ‘vintage’ juveniles, and though I saw a couple of Trixie Beldens that might be worth a few bucks on resale, I am too lazy to get into the whole book-dealer eBay thing.

There were more items of interest on what Cameron’s calls the ‘media tie-in shelf,’ where the novelizations live.

This is what we had in the days before home video, children. I had seen the McClouds on a couple of previous visits and decided the fact that they were still there, waiting, meant they must be for me and so I scooped them up.

The collection of Judith Crist columns was the same kind of impulse buy that the Rolling Stone book had been. Just nostalgia, a cultural snapshot. Once upon a time, movies were regarded as Art and people actually wrote thoughtfully about them in the mainstream press– I believe I first encountered Judith Crist’s essays in TV Guide, believe it or not.

There were also a couple of Michael Crichton oddities on that shelf that I fell for.

Futureworld is the non-Crichton sequel to his Westworld. The other, A Case of Need, is rather more interesting. Crichton wrote this in medical school under the pen name of “Jeffery Hudson” because he didn’t want his professors to know he was moonlighting. To his consternation, the book won the Edgar that year for best novel. “I was alarmed when I learned, some months later, that the book had been nominated for an Edgar by the Mystery Writers of America as the best mystery of the year. My agent, Lynn Nesbit, called to say that I would have to go the banquet in New York and accept if I won. That prospect was horrifying, because it would reveal my identity. I consoled myself with the hope that I wouldn’t win…..As luck would have it, I did win. Late one Friday afternoon, I slipped out of the hospital, flew down to New York, and accepted my award. I was pleased to have an Edgar, but I made a very hasty acceptance speech. I didn’t want to be photographed; every flashbulb filled me with dread. For the next few weeks, I lived in a state of panic that word of this honor would somehow get back to my professors in Boston. But that never happened.”

It’s a terrific book and deserved the win. I never knew, though, that it had been turned into a movie.

This isn’t a novelization, just the movie tie-in reprint of the novel. But I have never run across one of the genuine Michael Crichton ‘Hudson’ books out in the wild, so I got it. Occasionally I give in to my inner collector… and it was only a couple of bucks.

There was also a novelization of a movie I’d never heard of that sold me just on the back cover copy. A black CIA agent raging for revenge… A well-trained team of deadly killers… Hunting down the French Connection– on his own ground! The Dirty Dozen… Superfly… The French Connection… all rolled into one dynamite deadly adventure! How could I not?

And over in the science fiction section there was a Cap Kennedy I’d never run across. I’ve only read a couple of these and though they were all done by the same guy– E.C. Tubb, using the pen name “Gregory Kern” –they are wildly uneven. But, again, for a dollar I’ll roll the dice. And the first-page teaser made it sound like one of the good ones.

“If you wanted to set a bomb in a crowded city,” said Cap Kennedy, “or start a lethal plague, who would you employ to do the work for you?”

“A fanatic,” said Weyburn, the director of Terran Control. “The Mystics of Chral are made for the job. They hold to the belief that all life is a disease, that to eliminate it is to follow the wishes of the Cosmic One.”

Kennedy said, “You want me to check it out?”

“I want you to stop it, Cap. Whoever is behind it, whatever they intend, I want it stopped. I’m scared myself. Scared that someone will punch a hole through space and pour hell-fire all over Earth!”

Sounds like a good time to me. Sold.

*

With that, we took our leave of Cameron’s… and of Portland.

This is getting a little long, so that’s probably a good place to stop for now. Back next week with tales of our travels north up Route 507, where we found lots of other cool stuff — including one of the nicest bookstores we’ve ever seen, in one of the most unlikely locations. See you then.

7 Comments

  1. Jeff Nettleton

    Ah, bookscouting……….

    I have to ask about the McLouds; how many pages of “McLoud!” “Chief!” “McLoud!” “Chief!” do yo get per book? (old MST3K joke). I’ll takes me a good old cluttered up bookstore to a fancy one any day; usually find buried treasure in there, if you try.

    A Case of need got a reprint in the early 2000s. I remember it coming in and looking it over, when I worked for B&N.

    Good times. Glad to hear Julie got to hit her favorite spot. How do you pass up Spock-ear socks?

  2. Greg Burgas

    I cannot believe you’d never been to Multnomah Village. It was one of the first places we discovered when we moved there. Granted, we didn’t live too far away, but it was on the other side of the hill, right outside of downtown, so we had to drive down through Hillsdale to get to Capitol Hwy, but still. I agree that it’s a very cool place. We were in an antique shop not long after we moved, when we had no money, and we found a fairly cheap, beautiful roll-top desk. I told Krys to charge it, but she didn’t, and now you can’t find a good antique roll-top desk for anywhere near the price of that one. I like to remind her of that whenever she dithers about spending money on something unique.

    Fat City is great, and if you ever get back down there, you should go to Marco’s on the west end of the village. It’s excellent and they don’t do reservations – in typical snooty Portland fashion, when Benicio del Toro was in town filming The Hunted, he wanted to eat there and they wouldn’t make a reservation for him. Portlanders rule, man. 🙂

  3. Edo Bosnar

    Oh, man, love the road trip columns. So glad you and Julie had a good time (and, of course, I’m a bit envious as usual). Also, “Riders” is only coming out next year? Crap! I thought it would be out by the end of this year. Oh, well. I can wait…

    I didn’t know about Multnomah Village, either. Granted, when I was still an Oregon resident, the family lived 30 miles south of Portland, but once I got my driver’s license I did spend quite a few weekends tooling around Portland, checking out bookstores and comic shops. Surprised I never found out about it…
    … and then there’s Cameron’s. As usual, I wanted to magically step through those photographs to browse through those bookshelves. Sounds like another good haul, esp. that early edition of Case of Need. I read that in the early ’90s, in a new edition that had credited “Michael Crichton writing as Jeffery Hudson” on the cover. That is indeed a good book; in fact, all of his earlier novels are really good reads. It was only after the phenomenal success of Jurassic Park and, I’m assuming, the fact that the ensuing fame went to his head that his writing kind of went off the rails.

    1. Le Messor

      “It was only after the phenomenal success of Jurassic Park and, I’m assuming, the fact that the ensuing fame went to his head that his writing kind of went off the rails.”

      Did it? I hadn’t heard that. I’ve only read three of his books – the Jurassic Parks (which I love), and Prey, which made my list of stupidest books I’ve ever read.
      Not to mention, Jurassic Park, Prey, and Westworld all have pretty much the same plot.

  4. Louis Bright-Raven

    Yep, Chris “Relhok” Kohler is a very talented artist (who really should have shared more of his work at CBR; I would have put him in touch with Gary Reed or Randy Zimmerman or one of my other employers back in the day; I didn’t really see his work until a couple of years ago when I happened across it online at DeviantArt and made the connection).

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