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In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt’s Country Life Commission reported, “…drudgery, barrenness and heavy drinking characterized rural regions…” Hey, fuck you Teddy! I forgive you only for the fact that as president you camped alone with John Muir in the Sierra Nevadas and then set aside some gorgeous public land in the West that the current president wants to drill for natural gas. How about tapping Cheney’s colon instead? The first two of your commission’s three “findings” are complete bullshit. But that third one….well…perhaps it rises to a grain of truth the size of Tom DeLay’s heart. The Labor Temple Café and Bar in downtown Astoria on Duane Street could care less about TR’s report. It exists merely to be utterly Oregon cool without affectation, the exact way Bill Walton, Ken Kesey, Louise Bryant, Bud Clark, Hazel Hall, Steve Prefontaine, Samuel Boardman, and Tom McCall were in their respective heydays. It’s the way Oregon used to appear to the rest of the nation. That appearance is dead, murdered by a cabal former US Senator Wayne Morse called the “Vendor Class.” Recently, however, being in the Labor Temple restored my faith in the Beaver State. I was among friends. We spoke of great Oregon things. Surrounding us were regulars that fit the description of veteran Marines who dug in on Guadalcanal and turned World War II in the Pacific Theater to American favor: They were inveterate gamblers and accomplished scroungers who drank hair tonic in preference to post exchange beer…they had little use for libraries or organized athletics…they could live on jerked goat…strong black coffee and hash cooked in a tin hat. As I further took in the Labor Temple the joint just kept getting cooler. My mood soared. The breakfast was cheap and hearty and went excellent with draft beer. The sultry tattooed bartender wore a corset and faded jeans. Both threatened to explode. Hands holding glasses trembled at her approach. The kitchen and wait staff grooved with the tightness of a Stax single. A row of deer trophies adorned the wall. So did a framed pair of bull and rattlesnake skins. A huge mirror of Henry Weinhardt presided. He must be spinning in his grave knowing his downtown Portland brewery was razed for 500k lofts and an organic food store carrying dilettante beers. A fat roll of Copenhagen chilled in the glass-front fridge. Patrons can play free pool. They can take in a Van Gough print of “The Night Café.” He would have dug this smoky sanctuary from personal and societal madness. Several black booths invited clandestine caressing. Happy hour all day Sunday. Even karaoke might be acceptable in here if someone sang Merle Haggard or T-Rex. Christ I was redeemed! The Temple did it. No moneylenders shaking down democracy. Just laborers of the salt of the Earth kind. My faith in Oregon was refortified, and I was well on my way to corroborating the commission’s third finding! Then my faith vanished. And damn sobriety materialized! For no apparent reason, in the bar, I suddenly recalled hack Republican House Speaker Karen Minnis weighing in on budgetary manners, “partisanship,” and Governor Kulongoski’s alleged executive fitness. Her words brought to mind an immortal line from “Tattooed Love Boys” by Chrissie Hynde of Pretenders fame: “You shot your mouth off and I showed you what that hole is for.” I’ll make it vodka of the swill variety Ms. Speaker. Maybe something appropriately loathsome and sorority called “Puckers.” Or something very, very salty, like a…margarita made with American tequila. Where rolls the true Oregon outside the Labor Temple? Not in Salem. The Vendor Class occupies the Capitol. They drink Coors.
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