The Sick Roses of Suburbia and the Epiphany of a Picture

I knew the Oregonian “Metro” columnist Steve Duin lives not in Portland but Lake Oswego, but was unaware the writer from this banana belt suburb, protected from Portland’s East Winds, would feel protected from precinct prowling. I enjoy his columns, something I’ll miss when newspapers disappear, for the daily columnist is today’s “…voice of the Bard!” as Blake said, “Who Present, Past, & Future, sees.” Alas, “The invisible worm That flies in the night…Has found out thy bed Of crimson joy….” Duin’s Epiphany-day article is about his epiphany-like experience being pulled over without probable cause in LO on Christmas night after getting a late call from his Christmas-cheery, twenty-something daughter, who needed a ride home. 

I lived for a time years ago in LO, and it didn’t take me long to achieve a speeding ticket (30 in a 25; my VDub bug so proud), for which I was sentenced by the infamous LO Cookie Judge, dispensing justice from behind a folding table in the LO fire station lunch room, to play guitar for several hours at the Oregon Rehabilitation Institute, a sentence I cheerfully complied with, brushing up on a few Bob Dylan songs, and enjoying a successful gig, even if the patients, my audience, did sportingly encourage me not to quit my day job.

I was reminded too, reading Duin, of the summer, student job I once had as an employee of the City of El Segundo, washing police cars. I arrived at the police station on Saturday mornings, grabbed the keys to a squad car, and drove it to the city yard (less than a mile), where there was a wash rack in the motor pool. The motor pool was managed by a few mechanics who sat around smoking and listening to country oldies on the radio while I washed the police cars. At the time, I wore long, curly-wild hair, and dressed without much prepense in beat clothes suggesting a mashed hippie-surfer profile. The double takes from the good ES citizens who happened to see me driving one of their city’s squad cars – he’s either under-cover or the revolution is afoot. Then one of the lieutenants grew uncomfortable with the arrangement that gave me such liberal access to station, keys, and street and issued a directive that henceforth if any cop wanted his car washed he had to drive it himself to the rack where I would be waiting with hose, soap, and rags.

We all have a particular picture of ourselves, seldom the same picture others have of us. We often dress our pictures up, while others dress them down. The Cookie Judge was costing LO money, sentencing the citizens of the poverty-sheltered suburb to bake cookies for old folks or otherwise share their talents with their less fortunate neighbors. The annoyance was the sentence, and the judge must have irked a few of the wrong LO pictures, who would have preferred simply paying a fine. Our pictures provoke a wide variety of responses, from the childish and churlish, to the paranoid and pathological. In the end, they are merely pictures, and pictures tell no stories: pictures are wordless and require interpretation, and interpretation requires imagination, and imagination needs experience to avoid becoming purely childish and churlish, and experience wants wisdom to avoid becoming paranoid and psychotic. Then the picture becomes epiphany.

(Quotes in para. 1 from “Introduction” and “The Sick Rose,” from William Blake’s Songs of Experience, 1789-1794)

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