"Anyone want a shrimp?" asked the young man who'd just sat down next to me at the street car stop on 10th and Everett. We were in Portland to drive Steve's friend Moco around to get a sense of where to look for a house for his family who was arriving from Virginia the next day.
"No thanks," I said, "we just ate." Which was a lie; we'd just finished a beer at the bar across the street, but I wasn't about to help myself to his shrimp. He was good-looking kid, wearing a sport coat over a concert tee, had slightly longer than shoulder length hair, and was toting a guitar in a soft-sided case. "This is horseradish, I guess it won't kill me," he said as he flicked off the cocktail sauce he'd spilled on his shirt front. I noticed this spillage wasn't going to make much difference in his appearance. He ate a couple more shrimp and then put them away, digging a cigarette out of his coat pocket. Filterless, I might add.
"Anybody got a light?" he asked the general population. The general population was Steve, Moco, a young, short-haired, Asian man in board shorts and a tee shirt toting a backpack, and me. We all responded in the negative.
"I asked for a light, not a syringe," he said. I stifled the giggle that was threatening to spill out of me. I also stifled the desire to ask him what he was on. His eyes, which were sleepy, weren't red, so I assumed that whatever it was, it wasn't pot.
He produced a book of matches, lit one, and then held it a quarter of an inch away from the end of his smoke. And held it, and held it, clearly in some kind of stupor.
"Hey, you had a light all along," I said.
"It's not a light," he answered. The match was still just far enough away from his smoke that it would never get there if I didn't help. I pushed the hand holding the match gently toward the end of his cigarette and it caught, but it was too late. He still managed to burn himself on the match before it went out.
His eyes widened. "You're somebody famous!" he suddenly declared. I decided to play along.
"I'm related to somebody famous," I said. "It's somebody famous, but I have no idea who it is."
"David Bowie?" he asked.
"No, not David Bowie."
He changed the subject.
"Well, I've finished eating, now it's time for music. What'll it be? Pink Floyd or Bowie?" We all chose Bowie, probably because he'd planted the seed. He started to play Ziggy Stardust, and if he hadn't been so inebriated (which is what Steve later decided he was), it would have been nice, because he could clearly play, and had a nice voice, but man, was he fucked up.
His phone suddenly rang. "Sonya. Hey I'm glad you called or I would have totally forgotten about that. Do you know what the fuck I did last night?" Sonya must have taken the lead on the conversation because we never did find out.
"Sonya- are you there with Chris?" he sounded angry suddenly. She must have placated him, because he mellowed out again. "Sonya, will you promise to be my girlfriend for tonight?"
The street car showed up, and it wasn't ours, but our young friend hopped on it and quickly found a seat. I saw Steve grinning, and he told us why. After finding a seat, our young minstrel popped open his shrimp container and offered the guy in the seat next to him some of his shrimp.
We caught the next car back to North West and I drove us to the St. Johns area of south west Portland. We tooled around there a bit, looking at houses, and then headed home.
"Does pasta sound okay for dinner?" I asked Steve. Yeah, he answered.
"Moco, will you stay for dinner?"
"No, I gotta get back. I have a lot to do before Britta and the kids show up tomorrow."
We got home and said our goodbyes in the driveway. I excused myself and popped into the house, convinced my bladder would never be the same again.
It was still pretty warm outside, and the next day was set to be a lot warmer, so I started dinner outside on the porch. I found myself humming, the words to the song floating around me in the twilight: Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly, and the Spiders from Mars…it wasn't the first time the song pestered me since our encounter downtown, and now I had the song well and truly stuck in my head.
I guess there are worse things.
Pasta with Bacon, Garlic, and Homegrown Tomatoes
Boil six quarts of water for pasta and salt it. It should be roughly as salty as sea water.
3 strips of bacon, cut in strips across the short way
Goodish pinch of red pepper flakes
2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced or minced, whichever you prefer
3-4 tomatoes, stemmed and cut up in half to three-quarter inch pieces
1 tsp. dried oregano
Several fresh basil leaves
Once the water is boiling, toss in your pasta and set the timer for ten minutes. If you're cooking angel hair, wait until your sauce is roughly done and then cook it, for three minutes.
Saute the bacon in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with the red pepper flakes. When the bacon is done, toss in the garlic and cook for a few moments until it's golden and fragrant. Do not let it brown or it will become bitter and icky.
Toss in the chopped tomatoes and the dried oregano and stir. Cook on low to medium while the pasta finishes up. The tomatoes should be warmed through, but don't worry if they're not cooked all the way - that's part of this dish's charm.
Once the pasta is cooked al dente, fish it out of the water with an appropriate implement and throw it into the sauce, which you should turn down for the time being until you get all the pasta into the pan. Turn up the heat to cook off some of the liquid, and pour a few gluts of olive oil all over it. Turn off the heat, toss in the basil, shredding it as you go, and give it a final stir.
Serve in bowls and top generously with freshly grated romano cheese.