In which a brilliant lady of extraordinary proportions barges in on the scene.
Portlandia arrived in her future home by ship. Leaving the barge, she was swamped by thousands of umbrelled admirers who wanted nothing more than to touch the hand she held out with such a compassionate gesture. I wish I could have been there -- it was a reception fit for a queen. Even the sun briefly left its habitual October haven of clouds in honor of the occasion. She glowed. She gleamed. She lumbered down the street in all her shining splendor, stopping breaths and stopping traffic. As she made her way to the decorative pastel cube where she would be the crowning glory, her unrelenting gaudiness endeared her immediately to the masses turned out for her arrival. The crowd packed along the short six blocks between the river and the fifteen-story, multi-colored jukebox officially known as the Portland Building amounted to about 20,000. She was a success.
From their front-row vantage point on the corner of 5th and Madison, Lyssa and her friends had an excellent view of the royal entrance. Roxana was busy taking pictures the whole time, undeterred by the drizzle, but Lyssa remained a passive spectator, her tape recorder hanging unused on a strap over her shoulder. Hampered neither by machinery nor any official purpose, Deborah was obviously just along to spectate.
Keeping a firm grip on her hardware, Lyssa watched the six-ton lady approach, inspired in spite of herself. Portlandia's four-story stature couldn't compete with the skyscrapers, but her colossal copper presence, radiant and outrageous, seemed to dwarf everything in sight. Lyssa was surprised at her own enthusiasm: she thought of herself as someone with taste, and this utterly monumental figure was utterly tasteless. Although to judge by the crowds, pressing into her from three sides, quite a few people were letting themselves get carried away by the statue's flamboyance. Portlandia's exaggerated enormity was endearing. Lyssa liked the idea of the oversized woman dominating one of the main downtown buildings, even dominating downtown itself; it gave her a sense of power, as if the gleaming, gold-hued figure reflected back on Lyssa herself, as if Portlandia could inspire Lyssa to become just as conspicuous. A stranger jostled her and she pulled her left arm in closer to her side.
Roxana interrupted her uplifting meditations. "God, is she ugly!" she announced, taking another picture.
Deborah laughed, but Lyssa responded with characteristic seriousness. "Objectively, yes. But there's something about her I find irresistible."
"Are you into baroque suddenly?" Roxana asked.
"Her gaudiness seems so honest somehow. She definitely isn't hampered by false shyness."
"You do have a point there," Roxana conceded with more than a hint of sarcasm. "Well, perhaps with time she'll grow on me, but at the moment I just think she's an enormous example of bad taste."
"You seem to belong to the minority," Deborah pointed out, smile wide as she watched the press of people on the other side of the street.
"I know." Roxana focused her camera on a policeman as he reached up furtively to caress the underside of a gleaming thigh hovering above his head.
"I don't know why you should detest her so," Deborah said, mischief in her eye. "You make quite a splash with your appearance too."
"Yes, but I do it with taste," Roxana replied with a withering look.
Lyssa looked from Deb to Roxy and back uneasily; she had difficulty at times distinguishing which jokes were joke-jokes and which were get-your-goat jokes.
"She won't be this gaudy forever, you know, if that's any comfort," Deborah pointed out. "A few years at most and she'll lose that glow."
"What a shame," Lyssa said.
"A few more years and she'll probably turn green," Roxana predicted. "Can you imagine how she'll look then with that building as backdrop?" she asked, shuddering.
By the time Portlandia arrived at her future pedestal the drizzle had let up. Slowly thousands of umbrellas were closed one after another in waves through the crowd like dominoes falling, one of the most pleasant communal experiences Oregon has to offer. The patience of the spectators rewarded, they uttered a muffled cheer, whether for the change in the weather or the arrival of their new monumental mascot was unclear.
Deborah for one seemed to think it was for the statue. "I can't believe the enthusiasm," she said, shaking her head, her eyes bright with enjoyment.
"And all for a work of art!" Lyssa exclaimed.
"You call that art?" Roxana asked.
"It's a graven image," Deborah said, trying to keep a straight face. "There are no goddesses in the protestant hierarchy, so the repressed urge to worship the feminine has to come out somewhere."
Roxana laughed. "It's no wonder the critics don't always take you seriously, Deb, when you can't do it yourself!"
"I know," Deborah admitted. "It's a congenital weakness. But just look at her, Roxana..."
"I'm looking, unfortunately."
"She may be four stories now," Deborah continued, steadfastly ignoring Roxana's interruption, "but how big do you think she would be if she stood up? She inspires to worship."
"I'm an atheist."
Deborah was right: Portlandia had the dimensions of a goddess. As she crouched in the streets of the city, huge and bright and female, it was hard to imagine what her connection with commerce was supposed to be. She looked like she would be more appropriate on a pagan temple.
"Hey, there are Myrine, Lily and Mercy with the boys," Lyssa said, pointing and waving.
"Ah, the poet," Deborah said.
"Because Lyssa's publishing her poems," Roxana threw in.
Deborah shrugged and smiled. "We all have to start somewhere."
"And Cutting Edges is the bottom rung." Roxana was only half-kidding; it was certainly the bottom rung for her. Roxana was an artist, but she had to work at Lyssa's magazine to keep rings on her fingers and pasta on the table.
Deborah could make a living from her creative efforts, Roxana couldn't. Deborah's novels regularly negotiated the thin line between the serious and the trivial, but there was one thing to be said for them--they sold.
"You two are impossible," Lyssa said, laughing hesitantly and waving in Mercy's direction again. Lyssa had a soft, noncommittal laugh which she usually didn't make use of unless someone else laughed first.
"You're not going to attract their attention in this crowd," Roxana predicted, "and besides, I'm sure Mercy wouldn't be able to get the boys away from there anyway." She aimed her camera at their friend, whose copper curls seemed to reflect the glow of the statue, and took a series of shots just as Mercy was lifting her youngest son up to touch a massive finger. "That's going to be good," she added.
"So at least you admit that Portlandia's photogenic," Lyssa said.
"Oh, I think Mercy's much more photogenic than the statue. I've certainly never seen her with such a vacuous expression on her face."
"Well, you're right about the expression," agreed Lyssa, mustering Portlandia's face critically. Even at a distance, it seemed to be bearing down on them. "But, you know, not even that can diminish my growing affection for her. She grabs the imagination, Roxy!"
"Not mine. But I think I'm going a little farther back to get some shots of her being hoisted to her new home now that the triumphal procession is almost over. She's too huge to get all in one piece from here."
"Well, don't let your disgust ruin the pictures you take," Lyssa admonished her. "I'm counting on you!"
"If it's huge and gaudy you're into these days, then I'm sure they'll be just right," Roxana said, turning to put a greater distance between herself and the detested figure. She elbowed away from her front row position to the back of the sidewalk. The pomp and circumstance were beginning to get to her, and she was more than happy to have a professional excuse to escape Lyssa's unusual display of enthusiasm.
"I see a colleague of mine over there you should try to get a hold of if you get the chance," said Deborah, pointing to a man in a white suit half a block away who came into view as she and Lyssa made their way through the crowds. "I wonder what he's doing out here in the boondocks?"
"Maybe he's gracing our occasion?" Lyssa hazarded.
"Then we really have an event on our hands."
An event was certainly what they had, but it was nothing compared with what was still to unfold beneath Portlandia's impassive gaze.