how my weekend was shanghai-ed
I'm currently skipping this week's L Word party because I hung out last night with all those kayaking friends of mine and now I'm ready for some me-time. Mahavira, furthering her saintliness, accompanied me to a birthday dinner last night for Kara at House of Louie downtown. We were uncharacteristically late, having spent tons of time taking the goddamn foster dog to the vet for more tranquilizers. I hate that dog.
After the vet, we ran by It's My Pleasure (Portland's very awesome for-women-by-women sex-toy store) so Mahavira could spend the gift certificate I got her for x-mas and so I could pick up a birthday present for Kara. I was just going to get her a gift-certificate, but once I saw the plastic pee-standing-up device, I knew I had to get her one of those too. I couldn't resist. We're an outdoorsey bunch, but she takes the cake. I could think, off the top of my head, of about ten different situations she's in on a daily basis for which this pee device might come in handy. I'd love to post a picture of the kind I got Kara, but I can only find another cardboard kind online and I can't remember the name of the brand I got. Oh well. Just trust me. It was really cool.
The gift was a big hit and all the ladies had pee-device envy. I asked about getting some kind of bulk-rate discount, but the woman at the store told me I'd have to get about 25 before they'd cut me a deal, and I don't have that many friends. Oh well. I'll be getting myself one, eventually, but I waited. It'll give me a good excuse to go back to the sex-toy store (like anybody needs an excuse...)
After the mediocre chinese food at House of Louie, the birthday crowd wandered over to Hobo's to meet up with our Shanghai Tunnels tourguide. That was the big birthday surprise: a Portland Underground tour. For those of you unfamiliar with Portland's sordid history, our sweet little liberal utopia was once (in)famous for the practice of "Shanghai-ing" people -- in fact, Portland is where that term actually originated. From the mid 1800's to the 1940's, if you were an "able bodied" man who happend to get too drunk at any of the town's many saloons, you might find your drunk ass dropped through a trapdoor in the floor of the bar and put into a holding cell in Portland's vast underground network of tunnels and basement rooms, where you'd be kept in the dark for days until you were drugged again and carted off to the waterfront where you'd be sold to ship-captains, taken out to sea, and forced to work on the ship's crew for no pay. If you were lucky they dumped you off at the end of the voyage. If you were unlucky, they ran out of food on the trip and ate you.
The tour was an hour and a half long and can be summed up thusly: anticlimactic. Fun facts: in addition to having trap doors in the floor, those old saloons used to have tiled troughs running waist high along the front of their bars so that the men drinking at the bar (standing, b/c there weren't stools) could just whip it out and piss right there without having to leave the bar at all. Amazing. (Pee is an unintended theme tonight I guess...) And the worst Portland Shanghai-er (William Bunco Kelly) once sold a ship-captain thirty dead guys he'd found in the cellar of a funeral home who'd all died after drinking embalming fluid that they'd mistaken for whiskey. Woops. But kudos to Mr. Bunco Kelly for making lemonaid out of lemons. Not only did he sell the dead guys, he actually sold them for *more* than the going rate because he told the ship captain it took them that much more liquor to knock these bad-asses out. Wow. That's salesmanship.
Anyway, other than that, the tour was lame. While they've restored lots of the tunnels, the tunnels aren't even close to being connected anymore due to lots of modern construction and earthquake-proofing. The hour and a half long tour consisted of a *lot* of long speeches, full of 80% historical facts about the tunnels and 20% bullshit ghost stories to creep us out. Mahavira was thrilled at the possibility that she might have a brush with the paranormal ("Seeing a ghost will renew my faith in so many things," she kept saying) -- she lingered at the very back of the tour, insisting that any ghostly activity would be much more likely to happen to the person trailing behind.
Needless to say, she didn't have any brushes with anything besides boredom. We slowly made our way through three -- ONLY THREE -- underground rooms. We saw a holding cell where the men were kept while awaiting their sea-faring doom. We saw a pile of dusty cork-boots that were worn by loggers and had been found in the tunnels, evidence of Shanghai-ing, because the Shanghaiers would steal the boots of their victims then litter the tunnels with thick piles of broken glass to prevent escape. We saw a tiny, restored closet that had been used by "white slavers" to break the spirits of the women they'd kidnapped and intended to sell into sexual slavery. We saw a giant wooden, cigar store "indian," the purpose of which is too boring to relate. And finally, the climax was being encouraged to put our fingers through the actual bars in a window of another holding cell that the victims had put their fingers through oh-so-many years before. It might have been eerie if we hadn't, at that moment, been standing directly under the Boiler Room's karaoke bar, from which was wafting some pretty terrifying, butchered music. Yikes. That was probably the scariest part of the whole tour.
Not to be a total dick: the tours are run by a not-for-profit historical preservation society, staffed entirely by volunteers. I found it hard to begrudge my $13 admission fee when I considered that no one was getting rich off these lame tours. The money was all going to historical preservation efforts. I can appreciate that. And the tour guide did a great job with the dearth of good material she had to work with.
I was also planning to work my way further backward into the weekend and tell you about the post-holiday holiday party Mahavira and I went to for my work, but I'm getting sick of typing and need to go clean my house a little and do other cool me-time stuff before Mahavira gets here in two hours. Two hours! Woo-hoo! For some reason, the proximity of Mahavira makes me-time look dull and lonely by comparison...