I managed to survive my first eight months of independence in Portland with no job, thanks to salmon. The 1990 fish season had been good, and I had coasted on my earnings till almost the end of my time at the Fuse. By that time though, I was subsisting on instant ramen and mooching a lot of beer and cigarettes off my friends. Occasionally I’d even hit up strangers, and that was when an inner voice told me, You’re turning into that guy. Get a job.
Several people I knew worked at The Heathman Bakery & Pub, the upscale but casual place just down the street from PNCA where I got my free coffee in the mornings, and my free pints in the evenings. It was almost enough just having friends with jobs, but I didn’t want to push it, so I applied there myself.
I got my friend Perry to put in a good word for me with the night manager, Karen. With him as a reference I thought I was a shoo-in, but the day manager, Matt thought I was unreliable or irresponsible or something, and I got turned down.
I was all those things, but whereas Matt was also a known putz who should’ve been managing a Wendy’s, Karen was a known cool boss who would smoke pot with the employees, and that strengthened my resolve to work at The Heathman. I had Perry keep working on her till they finally hired me.
On my first day they had me train with this guy, Troy Turley. I was a busboy, and he was going to teach me to bus.
I got a little shock right at first, because while I’d expected some kind of Troy Turley-looking guy, what I saw instead was some kind of Asian-looking guy. In my young and ignorant brain, the name didn’t match the face. That all changed as soon as he started talking though. It was like his name was based purely on how he talked: like a Troy Turley. I had little experience matching accents with regions, but when he said, Hey. I’m Troy, all I could think was, “Definitely California, but is he Bill or Ted?”
Troy was tall and lanky, and he moved constantly, with a fluid spazziness like he was relaxed and all wound up at the same time. When he spoke, he animated it with side-to-side head movements that made his page-boy haircut swing back and forth dudically. Definitely Ted, I decided, except for those big moon-shaped glasses.
Troy and I were instant pals. Everything was hilarious to him, but he didn’t have an ounce of sarcasm or mean-spiritedness. At the same time, he worked hard and he knew how to be serious. He’d be prepping silverware like a madman and suddenly stop, look off into space and say in his Cali drawl, “All we are… Is dust in the wind, dude.” Long pause, and then he doubles over laughing. Then goes back to doing silverware.
During the breakfast rush one morning, Troy was showing me how to make coffee in the industrial sized coffee machine. OK, grab the bucket of Sumatra up there, he instructed. There were two-gallon buckets of beans on the shelf over the machine, and I reached for the Sumatra. However, it was heavier than I expected, and it slipped out of my hand as I pulled it off the shelf. It hit the floor at just the proper angle to produce an epic explosion of coffee beans that radiated out across the kitchen floor like a dark roasted Big Bang, with a soft shattering sound that got the attention of everyone in the restaurant.
Customers stared. The chefs glared. I was mortified, and Troy lost it. That was the best thing he’d ever seen. He spun in circles slapping his knee, mouth agape in silent howls of joy. We eventually swept up and I didn’t get fired. In retrospect, Beansplosion ’91 had been pretty amazing.
Troy had moved from the boring part of California, and before that his family had lived in the shit-kicking part of Iowa. He now lived in a Portland suburb with his intensely foxy but intensely normal older sister Claire. Troy’s mom and a brother were still in Cali. His mom was intensely Korean, and his white dad was intensely absent. I didn’t know anything about his brother Tad yet, but I assumed he was intensely something. It apparently ran in the family.
Troy embraced Portland weirdness like someone reuniting with a long-lost twin. For his first few months this came out in the form of random impersonations of Scooby Doo and Shaggy, or Bill and Ted, and also unprovoked deep thoughts, like the “dust in the wind” one. (Dude. It’s so tragic that entire families can be torn apart by something as simple as… wild dogs…)
He started making up his own words. We would hang out in the pub having our five shift beers after work and he would go, Hey gimme a sklurg of your IPA. Or he’d ask, Mind if I stronk one of those up? referring to the hand-rolled cigs I smoked. It was like he was turning into the Cat in the Hat. Getting drunk and talking gibberish with him was a gas.
His wardrobe evolved. He replaced the 80s newscaster glasses with thrift store reading spectacles, the tucked-in Lakers t-shirts with untucked, paisley-covered button-ups with big collars. He switched from jeans to leisure suit slacks. He’d cut them off at the knee to make shorts out of them. That made it easier to play hackey-sack and ride around town.
Troy had a really nice mountain bike—way nicer than mine—and it evolved in line with everything else. He festooned the frame with fuzzy dingleballs, random stickers, baby doll parts, and plastic flowers. He painted the dolly head green and stuck it on the front, a freak’s figurehead. He decked out his helmet with similar kitsch, and we’d ride all over the place looking for fun to get into.
Up to that point, almost a year after moving to Portland, I hadn’t made any close friends. I had good friends like Perry and Wendy from school, but no close friends. Troy and I became real buddies, inseparable. At the same time, our friendship wasn’t that deep. We never shared our inner feelings or helped each other out with personal issues. We never even discussed girls. Our friendship was light, based on our mutual love of absurdity, hilarity, and good-natured mischief.
Late one night after a party over in Northeast, we spotted some crappy cast-off patio furniture on the curb. Troy’s instant reaction was, Duuude! Let’s get it! We grappled with this cocktail table and two folding lounge chairs that wouldn’t stay folded, wrestled them all the way down to the river, over the Burnside Bridge and up to my apartment by the art school, stumbling, laughing and falling all the way. They became a permanent part of the seedy décor at The Landor.
We’d eat some mushrooms and meander all over Portland in the middle of the night, play hide-and-seek in cemeteries, stuff like that. We wandered into a Denny’s one night. There was a guy we’d seen around town sitting with his friends, and we recognized the “I’m frying balls” look on his face, so Troy decided to make his acid trip a bit trippier.
First he just stood next to the guy giving him this frozen Cheshire grin for a really long time. That nearly did the guy in by itself. But then Troy slowly brought his pinky up to his own nose and began to insert it, all the while grinning insanely. The guy was having a real hard time keeping it together, but he couldn’t look away. He sat there paralyzed with his face quivering while Troy’s pinky went in past the first knuckle, past the second knuckle, and well on the way to the third and final knuckle. The guy was really on the verge of coming unglued. When Troy abruptly slid his finger back out and said, Have a nice trip! the whole table erupted. Troy and I moved off nonchalantly and found a booth to haunt for three hours.
A few weeks later we saw the same guy on a bus, again looking a bit altered. Troy headed right for him, grinning and holding up a pinky. The guy groaned, Oh no…, and curled into the fetal position.
Occasionally we’d get into fist fights. We could be anywhere. Troy would turn to me with this look that I learned to recognize right away. He’d say in a very low, slowed-down voice, Youuu aaassshole, while throwing a slo-mo uppercut to my jaw. I’d fly backwards at a leisurely pace, caroming off a parked car and eventually bouncing back towards him. I’d retaliate with a devastating blow to his face that would send his glasses floating off and make his entire body reel and undulate, as a guttural groan and imaginary teeth issued forth from his slowly flapping lips. Once recovered, he’d deliver a brutal roundhouse kick to my gut that would fold me in half, and we would continue like that until one of us broke the scene by laughing.
This friendship with Troy was just what I needed after a dark and depressing first year living on my own, being up in my head all the time about Volga P, and relationships in general. Troy was pure therapy.
One night during work Troy told me, Hey you should meet the Tao Jones guys. They’re really cool. Tao Jones was a band, and we worked with the singer, Lena, at The Heathman. She was indeed really cool. A very mellow cat.
After work the Tao Jones guys dropped by our customary hangout, my apartment, and we all partied. They were indeed really cool. They were different from the artist crowd, but also unlike the other musicians I knew. Not cynical or agitated. They were like, on a loftier wavelength. They reminded me of the elves in The Lord of the Rings, but without the arrogance. They were like, nice. Not only that, their weed was tops. I mean, as a representative of one of the weed capitals of the world, Alaska, and a former ambassador to Holland, I thought I knew from good weed. But I was humbled and in awe of the Tao Jones dank. It was truly supreme.
Now, truth be told, weed was not really my thing. I respected the weed, loved the smell, and really tried to embrace the culture. But actually smoking it only ever seemed like a good idea after five beers or so. When I did partake, I’d get talkative for a while, then self conscious that everyone was noticing what total nonsense was spewing out of me. So then I’d clam up and just watch and listen to everyone else, who, I realized, were much cleverer and profounder and funnier than me. At that point I’d also discover that I couldn’t move. Or, maybe I could, but what if I did??? And I’d sit there, cotton-mouthed, wrestling with the mind bending problem of whether and how to get up and get a drink of water. Not only that, unless it was August, my nose always got icy cold for some reason. So lame!
Eventually I’d make it to bed, but not to sleep. I’d lie there with my cold nose, watching insane eyelid movies, having auditory hallucinations, like this pulsing roar that got louder and louder and then stopped for a moment before starting up again, and hoping I wouldn’t puke from the four-way spins I was having. Nope, sad to say, but Mary Jane and I did not get along too well.
Troy, on the other hand, had met another long-lost twin. Troy loooved the weed. He became a connoisseur right away. We still had our beers, our biking around, our mushroom trips, our play fights, and our hackey sack. But now there was this new thing, smoking out. Since this didn’t interest me as much, Troy hung out more with our new friends, the Tao Jones guys.
In addition, at the end of summer I moved up to Northwest (the nice part of town) from my apartment downtown, so the locus of our partying changed to the Tao Jones house in Southeast (the cool part of town). I’d also gotten fired from The Heathman for being irresponsible and unreliable—score one for putzy manager Matt—and school had started up again too, which impinged slightly on my carefree horsing around. So Troy and I were no longer constantly together.
We were still tight though, and I’d head down to The Heathman after class in the evenings to throw back pints with Troy and carry on just like always. We’d hang out in the grimy clubs where Tao Jones played, or at the Tao Jones house, where Troy seemed to have taken up residence.
Sometime that winter Troy decided on a vocation. He was going to be a chef. In order to work on his chops (ahem), he started a monthly culinary event at the Tao Jones house, called Bob. Why was it called Bob? Troy wouldn’t say. Bob was Bob. Troy would prep and cook a meal for twenty people, tons of weed would get smoked, and everyone would have a grand old time. Sort of a stoner Thanksgiving every month. That was Bob, and it made Troy a little famous.
One fine Bob, Troy invented helmet hits. A dozen or so of us were sitting on the living room floor in a classic pot party circle. The Three-legged Dog was making its way around. That was the name of the bong. When it got to Troy he said, Hang on, and reached behind him for a motorcycle helmet, one of those full-faced jobs. He took a monstrous bong hit, and immediately crammed the helmet down onto his head and flipped the visor shut. He put both hands on top and pushed down while scrunching up his shoulders. The rest of us watched, amused.
He sat stock still for thirty seconds, looking like some large-headed pagan idol, and then plumes of smoke billowed out from around the base of the helmet as he exhaled. Without changing positions, he then inhaled all the way again and held it. There was less smoke on the second exhalation, but he went for a third round anyway. When he finally lifted the helmet off, he had the most ridiculous, cross-eyed, cartoonish stoner grin on his face, and the whole room burst into hysterics. The combination of oxygen deprivation and recycled THC produced an epic high, and it was almost as fun to watch as it was to do. Everyone wanted to have a go. Whoever owned that helmet must have had a pretty putrid ride the next day, though.
I’m sure now, that Troy was probably not the first stoner to discover the magic of helmet hits. But for us, back then, between Bob and helmet hits and the weird vocab he used, Troy was a mad innovator.
Hey man, Troy dudically drawled one evening, my brother’s coming to town. We’re gonna have a party for him. Cool, I said. I’ll be there. One thing though, Troy added. He’s real conservative. Thinks he’s a cowboy. Good guy though.
When I showed up at the Tao Jones house it was already packed and in full swing. I looked around for Troy, but couldn’t find him. I finally spotted him in the basement where the band was jamming. He was all decked out like a cowboy. I went up behind him and slapped him on the shoulder.
Good one, man. What the fuck. Where’s your brother?
Troy extended a friendly hand and said, Howdy, I’m Tad. Good to meet you.
Of course. Troy’s brother was a for-real long-lost twin. Of course he was. My brain skipped a few beats while that all computed, and then I returned Tad Turley’s courteous greeting.
As a matter of fact, Troy and Tad were identical twins. They had both adopted radically different ways of walking, talking, dressing and behaving, but they did it with exactly the same energy and commitment and spirit. It was uncanny.
As time went on I saw less and less of Troy, for no particular reason other than that is how life goes. When I did see him it was like no time had passed. We dropped right into our weird, abstract routines. His circle of stoner freak musicians widened. His vernacular got steadily more out there and hard to follow. He had pierced his nasal septum and stuck a chicken bone through it. He changed his name to Primo. Everyone was calling him Primo. I could never bring myself to call him Primo.
Eventually I ran into Lena at a bookstore and she told me Troy had stopped talking. Abruptly, just like that, he went silent, and no one knew why. A year after that he started talking again, no explanation, like nothing had ever happened. He was back to his wacky old chronically upbeat self.
One of the last times I saw him before we really fell out of touch, he told me he’d run Nick Cave out of a bar in Austin. Tao Jones was playing a big festival down there and Troy had become a de facto member of the band. Nick Cave was playing the same festival. Nick Cave was quite a big deal to us back then.
Troy spotted Nick Cave in this bar and went straight up to him, presumably with a big Cheshire grin on his face. Nick Cave ignored him. Troy warmed up with some of his trademark verbal gumbo, and then he put his pinky up his nose. Nick Cave said, You’re a fuckin’ weirdo, and got up and left.
That was like a crowning achievement, I thought. I was so proud of my good friend Troy.
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