I discovered the song “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want) about three-and-a-half years ago. It quickly made its way into my A-List Playlist and when I went down from Southern Oregon to San Diego in order to see my brother graduate Marine Corps boot camp, I played the song on repeat the night before the ceremony. I wandered around downtown perusing shops, smiling at locals (I try not to interact beyond a certain point when my earbuds are in), looking for that perfect coffeeshop—provided it were still open in the early Fall evening—in order to write my blog. The song was speaking something deep into me. The horns, the chords, the guitar-bass solo. And the lyrics themselves, on a more serious note, brought to me a sounding board, a way of thinking about a girl, that I was getting over at the time. Admittedly, I wasn’t a-hundred percent in to her but the backdrop of internal relational confusion that I knew waited just outside my getting over her, needed the touchpoint of Joe Jackson’s brilliant ditty. I didn’t know for sure what I wanted but I was beginning to see that it wasn’t her.
And now I find myself in Portland nearly three years later, listening to it again. Though it’s not on repeat. Understand that I am from a small-ish town and any excursion to a big city pushes my daydreams and imaginings to the forefront of my thinking. And when once I make my way in and out of the commensurate big-city traffic, I must have something to focus on else I get bored and yearn for my quotidian, Country Mouse existence. I sat on the bottom step of a stairwell leading into a high rise yesterday afternoon, well and truly bored. With my iPhone’s low battery and one strikeout after another in my search for a new (to me) cream ale, I was beginning to feel “so lost and lonely”. But I did came out of that funk to find that it was indeed “only in [my] mind”. As an aside, the same stairwell was being hosed down today when I walked by. But whether or not the song came on in my headphones (I can’t say for sure I was listening to music at the time—battery issues, you understand) around that time, I began to see my big-city exploration paradigm in light of it. It’s as if the yearning, pragmatically-lovestruck tone of the song has sloughed off and given way to a very simple, albeit personal, interpretation: that of knowing what you want (how else can I say it?) and wandering around in wonder until you find it. Something to listen to while you crane your neck at the skyscrapers. Let me back up a bit.
I knew what I wanted that morning. I wanted to park my car and explore downtown Portland—alone. So I found a lot and ensured my Passat was centered between the lines. I paid the full day’s fare and then walked back with the ticket to place it on the dash of my car. I then double-checked to see it was locked. Just about ready to leave it for the day, I dropped a pin at the parking lot and struck out on my own. It was about 8:30 and a tad chilly and overcast. The city is wide awake by this time and so I flowed through the concrete blocks overhung by dark green deciduous trees. Downtown Stumptown (so-named because at one time there would seem, seem to be more stumps than trees in the City of Roses) is gorgeous. If you like green and gray and don’t mind some serious hustle and bustle, go for it.
About a month ago, I had begun a list of things to do while here. But again, when you find yourself out of your element, it can be hard to dial in just exactly what it is you want. If you’ve read the previous post, you know that I am escaping the end of one hard slog of a season and also experiencing the alternate high of the consummation of my Rush fanhood. And with all of that behind me by only a day, It’s time to get serious about the future, the next season. While the broad bullet points for the rest of my life are in place, my ability to relax and melt into a “vacation” is so far removed in light of the current confluence of circumstances that I’m tempted to fall into despair, no kidding. I pull out my list.
Now with Portland, the first draw—more of an anchor, really—is Powell’s City of Books. Upon arrival the previous afternoon, I had hit up Powell’s to pick up a hardback I’d prepurchased a couple weeks prior. This, only to find it had instead been shipped out to me due to complications of pick-up time and misentered email and would be waiting for me when I came home. And so, one of the things I’d wanted, desired, had already been checked off my list. But again, a giant bookstore is always, always worth wanting. With a Starbucks across the street, there would my base of operations be. And as I’d only briefly registered a thought of bringing a jacket along just in case, the idea of finding a new one—deep down in my wordless, subconscious list of wants—was beginning to make its way to the surface. For with a bigger city comes bigger selection. I’m not averse to online shopping but even then, you’re just going to get a greater variety of that which is available to the mass market, to the small city. I wanted something unique. And I wasn’t quite ready for coffee yet (don’t you ever worry about not finding a cup in this city) so in a moment of stillness, I elected to step into a shop with greeting cards along the four walls and tiny glass flowers and animals on a beveled shelf. The kind woman behind the counter suggested—at my description of the jacket I had in mind—Nordstrom Rack and the adjacent, multi-leveled mall. She didn’t have any recommendations for a good Caesar salad (another thing I want) as she makes lunch and brings it from out of town. That’s fine, thank you for everything. I left and continued on. Blocks are easily traversed in spite of that hangup I feel as to whether or not I should cross with all the other people doing the same—against the light. This would be a time to think for yourself. I make it to the places she mentioned only to find that they didn’t open till ten. But I already don’t feel it. When once ten rolled around, I stopped in to either place and left as soon as I’d come. I’m again walking downtown in a part that has more buildings than trees, the odd park sprinkled here and there. I stop into a Brooks Brothers and think maybe, based on their display window, that they might have it. That elusive and unformed step up from the jackets that hang on my hat tree in my apartment. But this store doesn’t have it either, I come to find out. The elegant woman tells me there’s this little shop a couple blocks up and across the street that carries, not so much one-offs, as particular, well-designed items of clothing. I can sense it. While a new jacket wasn’t on my list of things to do while here (it was all about Rush, but that was yesterday), this desire had begun to glow with an all-encompassing importance. I thanked her and left. This new place would take me five minutes and if it didn’t work out, that’s alright. While I was reminded of my erstwhile desire for a new jacket, it wasn’t on the list and so the fact that I didn’t come up here looking for one made it easier to let it go should it not work out.
I grabbed the door handle and stepped inside. A tall, slender gentleman greeted me with a smiling, bespectacled face. His associate, a young woman with dark hair and kind features echoes the hello. And so I tell them what I want. He can’t make any guarantees but brings out a large, black coat with button-flap pockets and water-resistant. I try it on and while it’s easily two sizes too large (they didn’t have a small), my sensibilities are still active. I feel the now-former imagination towards my next jacket begin to refine in light of this new style. And while its price point is not out of the question, it would be more than I ever spent on a jacket. That’s okay, as I’ve mentioned before, now is a time for new beginnings. And it’s not even Autumn yet. But alas, the jacket hanging off me like a drape is just not gonna work. Even as I observe myself in the mirror of their minimalist fitting room, I know that even were it a good fit, it wouldn’t “fit”. I ask if there’s anything else. He mentions the coat that they sell, the one he himself bought. He tells me it’s not black but gray and I ask to see it. He obliges and goes to get it while I chat with Raven, tell her why I’m in town. After a moment, Josh emerges with this folded article. Not quite waterproof but it’s “waxed cotton”. If I had the ears of a dog, they would’ve instantly shot up. At this, I am swooning having just a few months prior read about this in a book I thoroughly enjoyed and figured I’d not get to feel. I will search online for anything—be it a word or the model of a car of which I’m not familiar, or a textured jacket I’ve not had the pleasure of knowing—that comes across the field of my mind when I read in order to satisfy curiosity. But some things you have to experience. This city’s good for it, in this case. I take it and try it on, the texture a gummy feeling in my hand but that doesn’t rub off. High collar and a hood with thick, canvassy-feeling drawstrings. I step back into the fitting room and shrug into it. It’s a snug fit but not uncomfortable. And at twenty percent off, I’m falling for it. That aforementioned unformed “jacket” has just been given shape. It’s the shape of my body. So, effusing enthusiastic thank-yous, I purchase it and leave. And then head back to Powell’s to find the book in order to give it to them by way of commensurate gratitude.
In closing, I will say that sometimes our desires need to be tracked down. Follow the clues and don’t quit. You’ll know what you want when you see it, assuming you can’t see that something as yet.