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Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon

Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon

by Chuck Palahniuk

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Want to know where Chuck Palahniuk’s tonsils currently reside?

Been looking for a naked mannequin to hide in your kitchen cabinets?

Curious about Chuck’s debut in an MTV music video?

What goes on at the Scum Center?

How do you get to the Apocalypse Café?

In the closest thing he may ever write to an autobiography, Chuck Palahniuk provides


Want to know where Chuck Palahniuk’s tonsils currently reside?

Been looking for a naked mannequin to hide in your kitchen cabinets?

Curious about Chuck’s debut in an MTV music video?

What goes on at the Scum Center?

How do you get to the Apocalypse Café?

In the closest thing he may ever write to an autobiography, Chuck Palahniuk provides answers to all these questions and more as he takes you through the streets, sewers, and local haunts of Portland, Oregon. According to Katherine Dunn, author of the cult classic Geek Love, Portland is the home of America’s “fugitives and refugees.” Get to know these folks, the “most cracked of the crackpots,” as Palahniuk calls them, and come along with him on an adventure through the parts of Portland you might not otherwise believe actually exist. No other travel guide will give you this kind of access to “a little history, a little legend, and a lot of friendly, sincere, fascinating people who maybe should’ve kept their mouths shut.”

Here are strange personal museums, weird annual events, and ghost stories. Tour the tunnels under downtown Portland. Visit swingers’ sex clubs, gay and straight. See Frances Gabe’s famous 1940s Self-Cleaning House. Look into strange local customs like the I-Tit-a-Rod Race and the Santa Rampage. Learn how to talk like a local in a quick vocabulary lesson. Get to know, I mean really get to know, the animals at the Portland zoo.

Oh, the list goes on and on.

Editorial Reviews

Everyone looking to start a new life seems to head west. And one of the cheapest, hippest places to go is Portland, which may explain why the town attracts a certain outlaw element -- or what Chuck Palahniuk calls "the most cracked of the crackpots." A writer famous for the quirkiness quotient of his fiction, Palahniuk is the perfect guide for this tour of the offbeat, historic Pacific Northwest city. Equal parts travelogue and freak show, this hysterical book is a must-read for Portland locals, tourists, and fans of the author.
The New York Times
Palahniuk's tribute to Portland feels more like a memoir than a city guide. In interchapter ''postcards'' Palahniuk recalls, among other scenes, his first acid trip (at a Pink Floyd laser show in 1981), the time he got beaten up in 1991 and a debauched New Year's Eve screening of ''Fight Club'' in 1999. For the nonfan these fragments won't add up to much, memories both slightly unbelievable and insistently bizarre. For readers devoted to his books, they'll no doubt be reassuring. Here's a writer whose life looks a lot like his fiction. — Taylor Antrim
Publishers Weekly
Beginning with the premise that "everyone looking to make a new life migrates west," Palahniuk (Fight Club; Lullaby) portrays Portland as a city that attracts a sort of modern-day pioneering-or at least innovative-spirit. And because it's the cheapest West Coast city in which to live, Portland also draws its share of down-and-outs, making it a bit rough around the edges. Written as much for first-time visitors as for those who already share Palahniuk's passion for the city, this book is a mixture of practical travel guide and personal vignettes featuring quirky acquaintances and moments of happenstance. In keeping with the Crown Journeys series' tone, this is at once a reflection of the writer and of a particular community. Would every other novelist have devoted one of the longer chapters to the city's thriving sex industry and the many places visitors can partake? Palahniuk's fondness for his not-so-sleepy hamlet comes through in each gritty detail (for example, the recommended shopping excursions list includes the best thrift stores, and suggestions for accommodations emphasize haunted hotels). Certain details will tempt as many readers as they'll deter: the semiannual Apocalypse Caf , where guests pretend to celebrate "the first potluck after a nuclear holocaust"; the world's largest hairball, on display at Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary; the 1940s self-cleaning house; and historic underground tunnel tours. Among the filth and grime, abundant gardens grow, and Palahniuk hypes them all-from the country's largest forested municipal park to Mill End Park, "the size of a big dinner plate... surrounded by six lanes of heavy traffic." Map. (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In the "Crown Journeys" series, which features established authors writing about a specific place, the author's style and attitude are often easily recognizable. Here, novelist Palahniuk relates his experiences and thoughts on living in the Rose City, and if you are familiar with his novels (e.g., Choke), you will know what to expect-a description of the dark underside of Portland, not something that is promoted by the local chamber of commerce. Palahniuk tells us where to find ghosts, strange museums, used goods, and sex for sale; describes unique restaurants (with some recipes) and other exotic tourist attractions; and throughout intersperses vignettes called postcards to keep with the travel theme. The book is a quick and entertaining read but will not appeal to everyone. Recommended only for public and academic libraries in Oregon and those where Palahniuk's novels have been popular. [Previous titles in the series include Michael Cunningham's Land's End: A Walk in Provincetown and Christopher Buckley's Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital.-Ed.]-John McCormick, New Hampshire State Lib., Concord Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Novelist Palahniuk (Lullaby, 2002, etc.) squires readers through Portland at its outlandish best. The author moved to the city fresh out of high school, like others who went west and fetched up in the cheapest city they could find. "This gives us the most cracked of the crackpots," says Palahniuk, citing a theory suggested by a friend, "the misfits among misfits." In a city of the strange and fugitive, it stands to reason that there’d be many odd entertainments, and Palahniuk reports upon a mighty selection. In cool stride, he marvels at the oral storytelling talents of those before the eviction court, gazes at the world’s largest hairball (2½ pounds of solid calcium and hair), stands in awe before the holdings of the vacuum-cleaner museum, encounters the "spirit orbs" ("glowing balls of light that hover and veer") of 58 messengers from the beyond, and recommends places to get lucky on the sex front, including the Dirty Duck Pub ("for you fans of big men with hairy backs"). Not all is peculiar: Palahniuk reminds us that Portland is a city of gardens, has a crack toy museum, and claims shops where you can get used clothes, used magazines, and chunks of recycled architectural details. But he’s far happier taking a ghoulish tour of the city’s fabled tunnel system: "Down tunnel after tunnel the rope pulls you past scenes of incest and torture. . . . [In] the pitch dark, a crowd of strangers rush the tour group, groping their breasts and genitals. . . . Did I mention the big legal waiver everybody signed?" Tucked into the proceedings are "postcards" from Palahniuk’s own experiences with the city: getting beaten as the victim of a wilding, for instance, or attending the Apocalypse Café, where"the idea is, we’re going to the first potluck after a nuclear holocaust." For Palahniuk, the more acute the angle the better, but his is another solid entry in the Crown Journey series, with its premium on deep-dish subjectivity.

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Crown Journeys Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.72(d)

Read an Excerpt

(a postcard from 1981)

Acid and LSD are the same thing. I'm only telling you this because I didn't know it.

This year, I'm nineteen years old and living in a rented room on the second floor at 2221 NW Flanders Street. The Hampton Court Apartments. My friends and I, we buy our jeans at the Squire Shop on SW Broadway and Alder Street. We wear high-waisted, buckle-back carpenter pants with a loop midway down the thigh, so you can hook a hammer there. The Squire Shop has the white-denim painter pants and the striped engineer jeans. We listen to the Flying Lizards and Pink Floyd.

In high school I'd watched a spooky movie called Focus on Acid. Acid could make you mistake the gas flame on a stove for a lovely blue carnation. You'd have flashbacks years later and wreck your car.

Still, when some friends suggested eating a tab of LSD and watching the Pink Floyd laser light show at the OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) planetarium, I said sure. Let's go.

LSD was lysergic acid diethylamide. A simple alkaloid. Just another chemical. It was science.

This was December, when OMSI used to be in the West Hills, high above the city near the zoo. We sat in the cold parking lot at dusk and each ate a little paper stamp impregnated with LSD, and my friends told me what to expect. First, we'd laugh a lot. We'd smile so long and hard our face muscles would ache for days. Then, we'd grind our teeth. This was important to know so you didn't wear down your molars. My friends talked about how each light and color would bleed a little comet trail. The paint would seem to run down the walls. First, we'd watch the laser light show, then we'd wander through the West Hills mansions and trip on the Christmas lights.

In the OMSI planetarium the seats are in circles around the projector in the center of the round room. My friends sit on one side of me. A woman I don't know sits on my other side. Pink Floyd blares out of speakers and red laser squiggles around the dark, domed ceiling, and I'm laughing so hard I can't stop. They play "Dark Side of the Moon," and my jaws start to ache. They play "The Wall," and the friend on my left side says, "Put something in your mouth." He says, "You're going to wreck your teeth."

He's right, my back teeth feel hot and there's that burned-metal taste you get having a cavity drilled. I'm grinding my teeth that hard.

This is December, so we're wearing denim jackets with fake sheepskin lining. Stocking caps and thick, knitted mufflers. With my muffler stuffed in my mouth, I go back to chewing.

The next thing I know, I'm choking. My throat is full of something soft and dry. I'm gagging, and my mouth is stuffed with something chewy and matted. Some kind of fibers. Or hairs.

In the dark, the laser squiggling and Pink Floyd blasting, my muffler doesn't feel right. It's too soft, and I'm spitting and picking bits of animal fur out of my mouth. If it's mink or rabbit, I don't know, but this is fur.

The woman who sat down next to me, she was wearing a fur coat and dropped it into her seat. She dropped it so one sleeve fell across my lap. That's what I've put in my mouth, and here in the dark, I've chewed, gnawed, gobbled up everything between the elbow and the cuff.

Now my friends are trying to pass me some cleaning solvent poured on a bandanna. To huff. It stinks like dirty socks, and people sitting around us are starting to gripe about the smell.

At any minute the lasers and the music will stop. The lights will come up, and people will get to their feet. They'll slip into their hats and gloves. And the stranger beside me will find a drooly mess where her coat sleeve used to be. Me, I'll be sitting here with wet fur all around my mouth. Strands of fur still stuck between my teeth. Coughing up a mink hairball.

My friends are elbowing me, still trying to pass me the stinking bandanna soaked in solvent. Carbon tetrachloride, another simple chemical. And the fur coat woman on my other side says, "Christ, what is that smell?"

As the last song ends, before the lights come on, I stand. I tell my friends, we're going. Now. I'm shoving them out into the aisle. As the lights come up, I'm climbing over them, telling them, "Run. Don't ask questions, just get outside."

Of course, they think this is a game. So we're running. Outside the fire exit doors, the acres of parking lot are dark, and it's started to snow.

With the snow falling in fat clumps around us, we're running. Through Washington Park at night. Past the zoo and the Christmas lights on the big mansions, each spot of color smearing. Trailing. We're running through the rose garden, the downtown stretched out below. And my friends are laughing. Their fingers and faces stinking of chemical solvent, they run through the falling snow, not thinking this is anything but fun.

Meet the Author

CHUCK PALAHNIUK is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers Fight Club, Choke, and Lullaby. His latest novel is Diary. For more information, visit www.chuckpalahniuk.net.

Brief Biography

Portland, Oregon
Date of Birth:
February 21, 1962
Place of Birth:
Pasco, Washington
B.A. in journalism, University of Oregon, 1986

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