The Column That Got Away | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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The Column That Got Away

Pub crawling, impersonating Neil Patrick Harris and other hijinks from Source days gone by

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The Bend I remember of the late ‘90s and early 2000s was a place at constant war with itself. In some ways funny—the battles over roundabout art for instance. And in some ways serious—the election campaign of Les Stiles comes to mind. The sneaky implosion of the Old Mill to make room for a shopping experience.  It was a town becoming a city and it was often a wild ride.

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This played out at the Source as well, sometimes behind the scenes. This was, of course, an era when daily newspapers still mattered and “The Bulletin took itself very seriously. There was no lack of enmity, professional and personal, between people at “The Bully,” as I liked to call it, and those of us in the scrappy alternative weekly game. Many of the reporters who I met from The Bully tended to be earnest journo school grads trying to springboard their careers to “The Oregonian” or the “Sacramento Bee.” And they almost always took pains to tell me they were not like their editorial overseers—mostly stuffy, Chamber-of-Commerce mouthpieces who viewed our side of the street with open contempt. I can’t say that didn’t flow
both ways. 

But we all had to drink beer somewhere, even though the Bend of that era had only two breweries—Deschutes and Bend Brewing—until the McMenamins Old St. Francis reopening. It was there, at a grand opening event, that I made the acquaintance of one young editorial writer whom I will call Chris. Roughly speaking, we were counterparts on opposite sides of a heated City Council campaign that was shaping up as an epic battle to replace the old guard of Oran Teater and other conservatives with an earnest progressive slate, years in the making. This Chris was, to put it mildly, shitfaced on the beer and in the company of the only Bulletin reporter whom I truly cared for. I’ll call
him David. 

As I recall it, David had introduced us by email. Something about the high lords wanting to mix with the scruffy rabble. And in that email correspondence we had agreed upon a friendly wager on the election. I had bet that so-and-so would receive more votes than the other so-and-so. I had been right, and I wanted the free beer I was owed.

I disliked this person immediately when we met face to face. If he wasn’t wearing a bow-tie, I’d make another wager he owned at least a few. He had the smirky manner of a prep-school kid who was used to pontificating on things. He was explaining to me that he believed our bet had been a tie on account of a third candidate getting more votes than our two rivals. 

“Let me get this straight,” I might have said, “you’re going to weasel out of a bet with someone who has no qualms about putting that in print, say, tomorrow?” 

 If you know Aaron Switzer, the Source publisher, you can imagine the glee he greeted my story with. What a fabulous chance to ruin the career of a young Bully smart-ass. We laid immediate plans for a glorious column about the drunken and dishonorable nighttime habits of the earnest kiss-asses up there on the hill. Just as I was really getting going, I received an email: Chris was very sorry for what he had done. Very sorry and alcohol was to blame. 

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was. It would have been the glorious pinnacle of my equally smart-ass career as political reporter and columnist. But I just couldn’t kick a dog when he was groveling. It still pisses me off he deprived me of that column. 

And then, a Doogie Pub Crawl

 It was all Lee Perry’s fault. When you see someone as extraordinarily decent whispering conspiringly in the corner of a dark fern bar, though, it’s hard to imagine they are up to no good. Especially if they are the designated driver and your table is full of writers drinking their way through a company-funded night of bar reviews. A reasonable explanation might have been that Lee was ordering extra bread so that no one got too hammered. 

So I didn’t give it any thought when the waitress turned to me with a rather wide-eyed expression on her face. Like someone who has seen a ghost. Or a celebrity. But I did when she picked up a menu a few minutes later and meekly approached me with it. “Excuse me, but um do you think I could have your autograph?” 

“Of course!”

I turned my head to Lee, who had sidled into the booth next to me and whispered, “Who am I supposed to be?”

“Neil Patrick Harris.” 

A dim image of the actor who had played Doogie Howser, MD came to mind. I had actually been tentatively mistaken for him once or twice. in a “You look kinda like that actor who played Doogie Howser if he had spent too much time in the sun and cut his own hair” kind of way. This was before Harris’ fame had increased and he had come out as gay. The comparisons stopped by then—no one would mistake my general wardrobe of dirty Carhartts and holey Western shirts for Harris’ dapper slim-fitting suits. 

“Is Neil with an A or and I?” I whispered to Lee. 

“I dunno.” 

I took a guess, probably wrong, and wrote a dedication to the waitress on the back of the menu. Something about her being the best waitress in Bend. She backed away holding it clutched like a precious object and we went on with fern bar drinking. 

When it came time to write our bar reviews, I’m sure it was Aaron Switzer’s and not my idea that I write a satirical column pretending to be a miffed Neil Patrick Harris. I agreed to it only because elsewhere in the article it mentioned the mistaken identity story. The gist of the column was that Harris was a secret—and clearly rather alcoholic—resident of Bend who had had enough of his cover being blown. He just wanted to drink in peace. 

 Like most of my satirical columns, they at least amused the hell out of Switzer and myself. The public’s reaction was always a crapshoot. But a few days later, we received a letter in the mail (Yes, the actual snail mail as it was done in those days) with a return address from near the top of Awbrey Butte. I believe the stationary was monogrammed, but that could be my imagination.

I’m pulling it from memory, but it went something like this:

 

“Dear Mr. Harris,

I have had the opportunity to socialize with many rich and famous people such as yourself. And I have never found any of them to be so rude and unappreciative of the love of their public fans. You should be ashamed of yourself.

If you would like to do something positive for the community, instead of just complain, I would be happy to teach you how to host a celebrity cocktail party.”

Sincerely, Awbrey Butte guy

Absolutely not for publishing. No permission given to publish.”

Just a pro tip, but letters to a newspaper are publishable. I am proud to say that I argued against publishing the letter over the objections of my guffawing office-mates. And I never did learn how to host a celebrity cocktail party.

Speaking of The Boot

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