Drive around Portland Oregon for any length of time and you'll see a phrase displayed all over town. "Keep Portland Weird." It's on bumper stickers, on telephone poles, and on the windows of the city's many used clothing stores. Re-purposed clothing, I should say. People here are proud of being weird. Weird goes beyond looking and acting abnormal, it implies tolerance too.
For the most part, Portland is weird. It unfortunately has serious bouts with intolerance, but time and the willingness to change will eventually help out in that department.
It is not all that uncommon to see the weird that people here feel the need to advocate. Once I had the good fortune of taking some friends from out of town around my neighborhood and we chanced to see the unicycle riding bag piper who often plays the theme from Star Wars on his nightly rounds.
Weird Portlanders often push gender boundaries. They do this with hair and clothing most often, but it is not all that out of the ordinary to have a transgendered grocery clerk or mechanic. I'm certainly not saying that's weird, just that sometimes the weirdness comes with gender ambiguity. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Yesterday I saw a person in one of my local grocery stores that really typifies what I'm trying to say here. A thin twenty something wearing Doc Martin boots with black-white striped leggings that were ripped in many places. This Portlander had on a bright orange hooded sweat shirt and a dilapidated blue and yellow lace tutu. Some of the lace was hanging on. Because the hood was up I couldn't see said person's face. When I finally did, it was impossible to tell the gender, not that it matters. I did notice quite stark facial features: a large, pointed nose, gaunt cheeks, long chin.
Whenever I think of Portland's little motto and see someone who is able to live up to the challenge I think about a nice warm, late Spring day in my senior year in college. I was listening to someone speak while reclining on the sprawling lawn of Kerkhoff Hall at UCLA. There was a small green podium designated for free speech there. It was 1969 and a young representative of the counter culture was positing about what young people 40 to 50 years in the future would be like. What would be the "drug" of choice-would it be electrodes implanted in the head? What would we, as children of the 60s have to deal with in the role of parents and grandparents? We weren't thinking about the addictive powers of technology that day. When I see Portland's finest weird folks I'm often transported back to that moment. You know, my friend in the failing tutu would have been right at home that day on the green.