As some of you know, my name is Alisa Starr. I make Snarky Cards: Brutally Honest Greeting Cards. I sell them in bars from a box that hangs beneath my boobs. They will crack you the fuck up.
I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written to you. This summer has kind of been hard on me. After I decided that I ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO get out of Portland, I started spazzing out about it. It’s been about 6 years since I moved. And since then, I’ve stopped driving, or owning a car. Which would be fine, if I was moving across town. But I’m moving 173 miles away.
And it’s not just me, it’s me, my two gay cats, Chester and Tigger, and Snarky Cards. I spent all summer trying to figure out what to do with the business I have here, while I move up there. So, I thought, and I thought and I thought, and I made a plan and a back-up plan, and a back-up to the back-up plan.
And all the while, my newest room-mate was making me crazy. She didn’t have her own towel (or her own soap…?), she ate all my food, she didn’t wash the towels she used, or pay me back for the food she ate. I started squirreling things away in my room, because everything I left in the living room would just disappear. Her kitten, while adorable, would pull things out of the trash and drag them all over the house. Shitty Roomie didn’t take the trash out, although, to be fair, she didn’t put trash in the trash can either. She just left the whole cycle up to me, she (or her kitten) would leave shit on the floor, I would pick it up, put it in the trash can, and then take the trash out. This cycle of feeding, and cleaning up after Shitty Roomie soaked up a lot of my extra-energy. Leaving me with a lot of plans that I couldn’t get started on. Leaving me feeling even more terrified that I can’t pull this move off.
While that was going down at home, I was starting to notice that I was no longer having a good time selling in the bars of Portland. I started fights with people. I was cranky. I got tired of people saying “I don’t want to buy any more of your cards, but I never want you to stop doing it! I support you!” I swear to God, that’s a direct quote. And, I’d hear that shit a few times a night. It is some condescending bullshit. Once pronounced, the customer saying this shit to me, would beam, waiting for my gratitude. “I appreciate you and that’s so much more important than money.” some of them would add proudly.
Moral support generally requires some actual action. In order to claim that they are morally supporting me, my friends have to bring me chocolate, whiskey, weed or Murder She Wrote when I’m in the dark place; read my rough drafts, listen to me bitch, cry, yell and just generally give a shit about me. That is moral support.
These people were not doing any of these things. They liked me as a back-drop. They liked that I’m part of the Portland scenery, they like saying that they’ve met me. But they have no desire to support me as an artist. They would never use Snarky Cards, because they’re not the kind of people who say what they mean to the people around them. And, um, they bought some cards from me two years ago? So, like, they don’t need to buy any more.
And the longer I sold my cards, in bars, this summer, the more pissed I got at this dynamic, this conversation that I kept having with Portland. And finally, around August, I got it. I was sick of Portland, and Portland is sick of me.
So, I spent a month moping. Because I wanted to be the rejector. I wanted my friends, this town, my businesses to be alarmed at my impending move. I wanted people to yell “Oh my god! How will I live without you?” and, while a few people did that, they were all kidding. Magnum (my ex-boyfriend) used to say “The thing about Portland, is it doesn’t give a shit about you. It doesn’t give a shit whether you live here or not. It doesn’t give a shit whether you make art or not. Portland just doesn’t care about you.” And this started running through my head. Every day. I moped and sulked, and alternately, tried to be super-fabulous, super-funny, super-sexy, in an effort to eek out some regret, or genuine feelings from people I’ve thought of as my friends for the last few years.
And, it kind of worked. I got a little bit of love, from my bartender friends. A few of my customers teared up. I realized that I will miss this tiny, tiny town a little bit. After I’d gotten all of the well-wishes, and we’ll-miss-you’s out of everyone that I was going to, I was done.
So, after I’d paid September rent, I took off for California, to bond with my niece, and make a bunch of money, and get my head right for the move.
California was a balm that I badly needed. I spent a week at KT’s house, bonding with her and her boyfriend and her cousin. I rested on Arlette’s couch. I discovered the awesome that is Oakland. I saw my niece, and my brother, and beautiful sister-in-law, Christina.
In fact, that was kind of a crazy-awesome highlight. They took me to The Mall. I love malls. My first job was at a mall. My first bookstore job was at a mall. And the freedom that those jobs gave me, the self-esteem that I got from being good at them, is still potent for me. I walk into a mall, and I remember discovering that I was good at work, I remember having crushes on the guys at the shoe store, I remember buying ones or fives from the chicks at Hot Dog On A Stick. All the stores employees were connected by our mutual drudgery, allowing you to find camaraderie with hundreds of people on any given day. Also: bonus, you could figure out if the guy at the shoe store was a player by asking around. But more importantly than all of that: working at the mall gave me a wedge to put between me and my fucked-up family, suddenly I had a reason I couldn’t go to church or birthday’s, or Hell, even Christmas.
And it was the first time I ever felt myself engrossed in work. It was the first time I ever lost track of time, because I was concentrating so hard on a task. It was the first time I was rewarded for being bossy. And it was where I learned I could sell things. When I worked at Brentano’s, my sister worked at Macy’s. And at Christmastime, we would work until midnight, closing down stores on opposite sides of the mall. After we were done, we’d take off our shoes, and light a cigarette, and walk triumphantly through the mall, claiming it all as our space with our trailing cigarrette smoke. The boys we’d picked up, at our respective jobs would hoot and holler around us as we decided what kinds of other debauchery to indulge in for the night.
Christina and Stephen didn’t take me to just any mall, they took me to THE MALL where all of these good feelings went down. It’s been rebuilt, since then. The Brentano’s I worked for has been gone for a few years now. The back hallways I used to hide in have been torn down. The food court is in a different place now, but I still remember that walk of triumph. I still remember all of those good feelings I had when I first walked into it. And being there with Kiddo, and his kiddo, and the gorgeous and sensible Christina, was kind of awesome. But, even better, Christina wanted to shop at Torrid, which is the sexy-clothes-for-big-girls store. So, I got to try on clothes, in my favorite store, with my favorite people. And when we got home, Christina and I had a margarita, and then we all had a dance party with the baby. It was magical. And fun. And sweet.
It’s hard for me to explain how awesome my niece is. I take it for granted that Stephen’s kid is going to be great. That was a gimme. But I think the things I am astounded by about Emi, are the part of her that are her mother, Christina. There are a lot of awesome things about my sister-in-law. She’s loyal. If you fuck with my brother, you fuck with her. And she likes to get even as well as mad. She likes to laugh. She is a girly-girl. She is hot as shit. You can depend on her to say the most reasonable thing in the room. And she’s kind. But she’s also guarded. She wants to know what kind of person you are before she lets you in. (This is something I really admire about her) So, it takes a while. But when Christina smiles, her whole face splits open with happy. And it’s child-like. I mean, if you had a good childhood. And it feels like a reward. My niece has that same beautiful giving-in-to-Joy smile. The first time I saw it, in the car, on the way to the mall, I started crying a little bit. It’s so big. And it’s so completely present. And Emilene’s smile makes me feel really, really grateful that Christina is in my life. So she can be part of my family. So I can be part of the family she’s making with Stephen. But most of all, I wanna figure out how to smile like these girls.
So, we laughed. And we made jokes, and we talked about our problems. I was super excited, to show
Emilene the books I”d bought her. But she did not give a shit. I mean, she’s, like, 6 months old. So, I get that she’s got other stuff going on. Walking is more important that reading, right now. But Stephen squealed with delight when I pulled out Danny The Dinosaur, Morris Goes to School and Little Bear. Apparently, he’s been reading them over and over to our little girl ever since.
Stephen woke me up early the next day, with coffee and a regretful smile. He knows I don’t do mornings. We got in his car, so he could take me to the train station. “Are those kids….in high school?” I gestured to some kids crossing in front of the car. He nodded. “Actually those kids are going to our high school.” He replied. “You wanna see it?” I was so surprised that I could identity teenagers at a distance, it took me a minute to hear what he said. “You live down the street from our high school? Um, sure, I’d like to see it. I guess.” I was weirded out. Why do people stay in the same place their whole lives? As we passed the teenagers, I rolled down my window. “LOSERS!!!” I screamed out, as we passed them getting into a car. (Which, by the way, they were going to drive 3 blocks to our high school. Hello? Pollution? Recession? Obesity?)
I settled back into my seat, grinning. I’m 32 years old. I had had 3 hours of sleep. I’m sure I looked like shit. In fact, I’m sure I looked like a crazy, fat, old woman, yelling from a car. But it still made me feel awesome. Stephen looked at me with a mixture of fear and disbelief. “That chick was wearing tight jeans. I hated girls like her in high school.” I said defensively. I was lying. I didn’t really hate anyone in high school. It just felt good to taunt children.
The memory of that night with my family has carried me through the last two weeks I’ve been back in Portland. And tomorrow night, I’m going to go to Seattle, to see my friends, and sell my wares, and try to believe that soon I’ll be able to call that new city home. So, if you’re on Capital Hill, and you want some sassy, sexy, boobilicious fun, go to a bar, and wait for me there. Or email me. And let me know where you’ll be. I can totally meet you up. And save you from life without my boobs.