April 15, 2011

Portlandia: The Lost Yarn Bombing Episode Part I

Above: The Actual “Portlandia”

Those of you who have watched the IFC (Independent Film Channel) show “Portlandia,” created by Fred Armisen (of SNL fame) and Carrie Brownstein, musician, know the show to be a satire focusing on some of the more extreme principles and values sometimes evident in Portland, Oregon. For those of you who have not had a chance (or maybe the desire) to watch Portlandia, I can tell you that, well, it is a satire focusing on some of the more extreme principles and values sometimes evident in Portland, Oregon, my hometown.

Speaking as someone who was raised in Milwaukie—outside the bigger city of Portland—and as someone who has never lived in the city of Portland-proper, or even in some of the closer-in rings of neighborhoods surrounding Portland-proper, and speaking as someone who has never worked or gone to college in Portland, and as someone who has seen fewer live shows or concerts than can be counted on two hands there, I can reliably say that the show is spot on. After all, I can see the city from the freeway as I pass by. That has to count for some sort of authority.

Portlandia has been renewed for another season and, since I have been to Saturday Market a few times, I thought I’d take a lame shot at writing my own script for Portlandia’s upcoming season—with yarn bombing as the theme.

Why not? There are plenty of pretty crazy people in our beloved downtown area who understand such behaviors. In fact, I am going to not only include those extreme and lovable Portland folks in my script, I am going to branch out and include a few from other places like Eugene, too. After all, characters are people, too.

This is a work in progress, so forgive my sometimes scriptish, sometimes narrative style that will surely result as I write this.

If you have a chance, I recommend you watch at least the first episode of the show before reading on. Having said that, I should also say that since these characters exist in many forms in all big (and sometimes smaller) cities around the world, well, you will probably be okay if you don’t.

Let’s get started.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the city set-up, let me give a very little…uh…background. Small pun intended. If you already know the city, you may pass the next section and get to the good stuff, beginning at the asterisk*. You may also collect $200. In Monopoly money.

The downtown area of Portland runs along the west side of the northern end of the Willamette River. The waterfront edge of the city has a large city park: Tom McCall Waterfront Park, named after one of Oregon’s governors. 

The park is simple, with grass in the center and sidewalks running alongside. It is used for celebrations like the June Rose Festival. It has a big fountain at the southern end, which is nearly continuous with the surrounding sidewalk. It is a circular fountain with all the spouts facing in. It’s one of those fountains with an unpredictable spray pattern and is a summertime favorite of hot pedestrians, rollerbladers and cyclists alike.

To the west side of the park is the downtown area, which is laid out in a sort of grid pattern and is appropriately replete with tall cement or glass structures, and large and small businesses alike. It’s fairly compact, giving it a feeling of smallness and convenience.

The city is accessible from the east and the north via a number of bridges crossing the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, thus the nickname, “Bridgetown.” We have lots of other nicknames, too—Stumptown, Rip City…anyone interested in learning more about that can check out a reliable, scholarly site like, say, Wikipedia. Let’s press on.

Like any other big cities, there are cooler, hipper places to live and those that are not so cool. Pearl District in downtown proper? Very cool. Beavercreek many miles away outside Oregon City? Tanya-Harding-uncool. You get the picture.

*With that quick layout, let’s commence the never before seen—and likely never seen again—original yarn bombing episode of Portlandia.

In the infamous words of Will Ferrell’s prisoner character in “Starsky and Hutch,” “I’m not gonna lie to ya. It’s gonna get weird." After all, it is Portland. And we like it that way.

The Parade

In the opening scene, let’s begin with only a few knitters—women wearing knee high stripy socks (hand-knit, of course), hot pink capris, cabled fingerless gloves and tie dye tee shirts that say “Get Your Cozy On.” They exude a sort of optimistic, joyful attitude. They have tight, Olive Oil-style braids with fans of DPNs sticking out like, well, fans. They are lilting down the street on the waterfront on a sunny day to the background music, “Shake Your Groove Thing.” They are knitting like mad, tossing freshly made hand-knit originals to passersby, beckoning them to join in the fun.

Almost as soon as the cutesy parade begins, the gleeful participants are confronted with a rival knitting gang. They are wearing black tee shirts that say, “What Happens at Knitting Club Stays at Knitting Club.” They look collectively ominous in their short, spiky, black emo hair. They stop the colorful crowd short, the music changes to that tense “Westside Story” music that plays just as The Jets and The Sharks meet for the first time.

The women all lower their bodies, circling one another, and instead of snapping, they are clicking knitting needles together. All in rhythm.

They stare, they sneeer, they coil to strike.

Then they suddenly remember that they are all knitters—a part of a larger secret society joined by unspeakable magic. The spell is broken. They shake it off. What were they thinking?

They shrug, they join forces.

They all continue down the street gathering intensity, numbers and speed. They toss a new hand-knit headdress to Zeus, the guy who paints himself silver and wears little but a belt of Barbie heads around his middle. He joyfully joins in the march. The group tosses a pair of drumstick cozies to the marimba street musicians and a guitar cover to the Elvis impersonator in Old Town. The new followers all take their place in the crowd, bringing reverberating music with them.  

The powerful group acts as one body—they have become a flash mob—dancing, committing senseless acts of yarn bombing in synchronized knitting at unthinkable rates of speed. They approach the south end of the park.

They knit cozies for the Salmon Street Fountain Spouts, still turned off for winter, tossing them into place as they pass. The fountain spontaneously turns on, sending colorful yarn shrapnel everywhere behind the unstoppable crowd. The mob covers a naval ship, docked downtown (unlikely until June, but what the hey? This is a fantasy) with an afghan of impossible proportions, adorned with chevron stripes.

Needles are flying, broken ones are left behind and new ones appear from apparently nowhere as the mob heads west into downtown, tossing colorful scraps of alpaca and silk behind them like a tickertape parade.

To be continued…

A Drive-by Fleecing

We are now in a very small, very dark coffee shop. There are only a handful of people inside the shop with one wall of west-facing windows. The other walls are covered in fliers for local band performances, ads for roommates wanted and calls to action for lesser known activist groups like “Save the Nutria.”

The few patrons present are youngish, college-student types.

Four of them are sitting at a window table, sipping foamy lattés. They are two couples, guys and girls facing one another. They are dressed in stylishly torn jeans and have backpacks on the floor. There hair is appropriately mussed—just enough as if to say, “I tossled this on purpose, but doesn’t it look incidental?” We enter in the middle of a conversation…

Girl #1: Clearly upset. “I’m not kidding, right? Like I totally saw it with my own eyes!”

Girl #2: “Tiffany, are you sure? I mean…it sounds like…weird.”

Girl #1: “I am telling you—Todd and me saw it. We were driving by in Todd’s dad’s car and we saw it. A naked sheep.”

Boy #1 (with Girl #1): “Well, it wasn’t like totally naked.”

Girl #1: Sarcastically to boy #1, “Yeah, Todd! It had like a mockery of its fur or whatever on it. It didn’t have any curly hair on it, only this like white cloth. Like, hey, sheep, we took your good stuff and you can have this.’ ”

Girl #2: Okay. Let me understand this. You were driving out in Oregon City…

Girl #1: “Yeah, only ‘cause we had to…”

Girl #2: “Ok, wait. You were driving in Oregon City past a farm and saw a naked sheep with a cloth on it.”

Girl #1: Rolls her eyes. Tiffany is getting very impatient. “Yes!! It was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen! Its fur was like stolen! We have to do something!! People shouldn’t take this sort of stuff lying down.” Tiffany is getting emotional they way young, idealistic and uninformed girls can.

Boy #2: Silent until now, quietly says, “Uh…it’s not fur, it’s wool. And don’t sheep farmers, herders, whatever, sheer sheep for the wool? You know, and cover them afterward to keep them warm?”

Girl #1: By now, Tiffany is just plain angry. “Fur! Wool! Whatever! You are so stupid! And why would a wild animal need a cover?”

Everyone else completely understands the situation. They stare at Tiffany, watching her screw up her courage and strength. From a distance, everyone but Tiffany hears it. The approaching sound of a…marching band? They can hear the deep bass of drums and the clicking of…sticks? Drumsticks? It’s getting louder.

The little group looks at each other (except Tiffany) and then out the window. Tiffany reads this as a dismissal of the sheep’s misfortune.

Girl #1: Tiffany stands, making a final dramatic gesture. “Why is everyone so dense? This is a living, breathing creature!” She pauses, looks accusingly around the table. “You know, I went to the humane society and showed the woman there the picture I took on my iPhone and she just stared, too.” Tiffany stands up to go into action, “I am going to do something! I am going to knit it a new fur!”

Girl #2: Distracted by the increasing outside noise, “You don’t know how to knit.”

Girl #1:  “My grandma showed me how one time!!!” She is screaming, now, “You’ll see. This is a tragedy and I am taking action. Don’t you see? If we don’t do anything, there will be more drive-by wool poachings! That’s what this is!” Tiffany was nearing full-blown hysteria.  She smoothes her wrinkling silk screen tee from Lillith Fair.

Crying now, she glances around one more time and storms outside in desperation. 

As the approaching storm nears, her friends try to stop her. They are too late. The yarn bomb flash mob has grown to nearly 1,000 participants. They are in a time warp of accelerated knitting mastery, and their creations become more intricate by the minute.

On their way up and down every street, they have clothed every dog and dog walker in matching entrelac hats and sweaters. They put a bikini on Portlandia and put a cozy on her trident. Like water and wind, they have become an impenetrable force of nature and they nearly trample Tiffany as she leaves the coffee shop on her mission. She stumbles away, sobbing in a lovely diamond-patterned slouchy hat and Fair Isle cardigan…

To be continued…

The Origins of Knitting

Scholars have led us to believe that the origins of knitting are hard to put an exact date on—that the existing relics of the ancient craft are hard to place in history. Fear not, fair reader, for the mystery is about to be solved.

I belong to a little-known group at Portland Community College committed to finding out the truth about knitting and other fiber arts. We are PCC, People who Care about Crafts and Culture. Through our research, we have discovered the truth about the humble beginnings of knitting. There is a little known tale—though an important one—that puts all of the questions to rest. We reveal it here for the first time: The origins of knitting.

1982: Smithville High School, USA. The class bell rings and everyone floods the halls.

A male student with a Jefferson Starship bi-level hair cut, wearing a pair of rainbow suspenders and a “nanoo nanoo” Mork & Mindy tee is hurrying to class while rat-a-tat-tatting on the wall with a pair of drumsticks.

He is nearing a corner.

From around the blind bend, an artsy girl with lots of fabric to her prairie skirt is scurrying to home economics class, carrying a big, sloppy, unwound ball of yarn. Her thick glasses keep sliding down her nose as she runs through the halls.

She rounds the corner and the two collide, the boy and the girl. Drumsticks and yarn entangle crazily. Both people crash into each other and then the floor. Arms and legs are flying as they try to get their bearings.

After the tumble subsides, they look up at each other, dazed. Then they realize the catastrophe.

Mork boy says, “You got your yarn in my drumsticks.”

Glasses girl says, “You got your drumsticks in my yarn!”

They both hold up their hands at the same time, each still clinging to their original objects. The violent encounter has produced a tiny knitted square.

Their eyes light up. They smile.

This could be the start of something big. Really, really big.


Mr. and Mrs. Smith live in a loft apartment in the Pearl District of downtown Portland. They are DINKS, to borrow an acronym from the 80’s, and live very, very well. They are both unemployed civil rights lawyers with big hearts and come from wealthy families that afford them their comfortable living.

Let’s meet with them now as they record a public service message. They have enlisted the help of Mr. Smith’s brother, Joe, the audio-video specialist at the local high school.

They are sitting on the futon in their loft living room, the kitchen behind them. They both face the camera squarely. Soft bleating can be heard somewhere in the background.

Mr. Smith speaks first, “My dear friends, we come to you tonight to reveal a devastating national crisis.”

Mrs. Smith chimes in, “Yes. Tonight around the world, millions of sheep are being denied basic rights.”

Mr. Smith continues, “That’s right. Millions of sheep, the very same ones who sacrifice their wool for our fabulous, fabulous sweaters are being forced to live out of doors, in barns and on hillsides.”

Mrs. Smith holds up a picture of a sheep. “Don’t you think it’s time for the friends who keep us warm to come into the warmth of our hearts and our homes? Haven’t they had enough?”

Mr. Smith: “That is why my wife and I are starting a new program: Adopt-a-Sheep. This groundbreaking effort will allow up to millions of sheep living out-of-doors to stay warm. And dry.”

Dramatic pause…Mrs. Smith leans in closer to the camera.

Mrs. Smith: “For pennies a day, you can sponsor a sheep like Adam Lambert, here.” She gestures to the picture. Upon closer inspection, the sheep in the photo is holding a sign that says, “Will trade fleece for food.”

Joe from behind the camera: “Uh…did you guys Photoshop that sign into that picture?”

Mr. Smith, protecting Mrs. Smith, sarcastically retorts, “Uh, did we ask you for your opinion?”

Joe, sheepish, still unseen: “It just seems like a sheep wouldn’t know how to write a sign.”

Mr. Smith, normally a very quiet, peaceful man, is becoming frazzled. He raises his voice like a younger man who always fights with his brother. “Sheep are very smart animals, in case you didn’t know, Joe! Look, you worry about the camera, and we will worry about the sheep research! Do you want to help, or not?”

Joe: “Are you still buying pizza?”

Mr. Smith: “Yes! Look, can we get back to this project?” He is starting to sweat.

Joe: “Huh? Oh, yeah, yeah…sure.”

Joe is quiet again.

Mr. Smith regains his composure. In a droning, don’t-you-totally-care-about-this? manner, he resumes his important message: “That’s right. For the cost of two lattés a day, you can do something about sheep homelessness.”

Mrs. Smith: “Once you sign up with Adopt-a-Sheep, your sheep will be delivered to you by UPS next-day air with an instruction manual and a pooper scooper.” She whispers to Mr. Smith, did you get those instructions online?

Mr. Smith whispers back out of the side of his mouth, still trying to gaze into the camera soulfully, I had a little trouble with the Soay Sheep Farms website. Can we talk about this later? He turns his attention to the camera, “Act today, before another sheep spends another night in the cold barn air.”

Mrs. Smith suddenly appears to be having a hard time holding back tears; she begins to weep. “Please, if you have ever worn a sweater, give back tonight. I’m sorry, I can’t continue….”

Mr. Smith: “We are going to do it. We are going to call. I have never actually seen a sheep in person, or held one. But I know it’s going to be great.”

Mrs. Smith: Sobbing, says partly to herself, whispers “I used to have a little stuffed lamb…my parents gave it to Good Will…”

Mr. Smith looks more intensely at the camera, “Yes. Call the number on your screen. The magnitude of my wife’s tears is matched only by the magnitude of the love in her heart. For the sheep. Call now.”

Joe, from behind the camera, “Uh…I don’t know how to put a number on the screen….”

Mr. Smith loses his cool completely. He stands, muttering unintelligibly. He puts his hand on the lens. A scuffle is heard….

To be continued…

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