Keep Portland Weird
By: David K. Hulegaard
The alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. every Monday through Friday. The routine had become so mundane that Lisa rarely ever slept till the designated wake-up call. If she was lucky, she’d open her eyes at 5:30 a.m. and stare at the bright green LED display until golden oldies blasted from her favorite AM radio station. If she was unlucky, her mornings began around 4:00 a.m.
Today was an unlucky day.
Lisa hated her job. Writing obituaries for The Oregonian failed to excite her anymore. Originally proposed to her as a “foot in the door” opportunity, she wrote the best damn obituaries in the Pacific Northwest, hoping that it would eventually lead to something better. Unfortunately, her stellar work made her irreplaceable, and her obituaries were the most requested among local residents. Lisa removed all the stress from passing on, as the departing souls could rest in peace knowing she’d write the perfect synopsis of their life.
When Lisa arrived at the office at 6:54 a.m., she was the first person from her department to show up. She booted up her Mac, wondering what banal assignments had landed at her desk overnight.
Before he’d turned the corner to enter her work area, Lisa smelled her boss’s potent Starbucks coffee. “Morning, Craig,” she said without averting her eyes from the still updating email inbox.
“Hey, Lisa,” Craig said, running fingers through his salt-and-pepper hair. “You always know it’s me. How do you do that?”
“It’s a gift.”
“So…” Craig leaned against Lisa’s desk, sloshing his paper cup of coffee. “Got a weird one for ya this morning. Did you get my email yet?”
“Not yet, I just got here.” Lisa moused over the email icon, noting twenty-one unread messages. “Why, what’s going on?”
“Well, you’re aware of the television show Portlandia’s incredible popularity, right?”
Lisa rolled her eyes. “You mean the show that tries to make Portland look cooler than it really is, when in fact it could be filmed in any other city and achieve the same results?”
“Yeah.” Craig rubbed the back of his neck. “I know you’ve got some pretty strong opinions about it, which is only going to make this much harder.”
Lisa swiveled her chair to face Craig. “Going to make what much harder?”
“Well…” Craig looked down into his caramel-colored coffee. “You were sort of featured on last night’s episode.”
“I’m sorry, I what?” Lisa twirled curls of her blonde hair around a pen. “Because it sounded like you just said I was featured on the show.”
“Not you, you, but a character based on you.”
“I’m lost,” Lisa said.
Craig wandered over to the wall and flipped through the months of a 2015 Walking Dead calendar. Actors clad in soiled clothing, and drenched in copious amounts of stage blood graced the pages. Upon reaching the end, Craig moved his attention to strips of Walking Dead dad joke memes Lisa had printed, cut out, and pinned to the wall.
“I don’t get it,” Craig said. “Why did he name his iPod ‘Titanic’?”
Lisa removed her glasses and rubbed her stinging eyes.
“Oh!” Craig laughed aloud. “It’s ‘syncing.’ That’s a homonym joke. How clever!”
“Craig, can we get back to the whole Portlandia conversation?”
“Right, right. Sorry.” Craig pulled up a co-worker’s chair and sat down. “As you know, the show’s writers spend a lot of time here doing research for their skits. They heard about you and your following, and thought it was very Portlandia.”
“Well, yeah.” Craig sipped his coffee. “No one in the greater metropolitan area wants to die unless Lisa Norbeck is going to write their obituary.”
Lisa tossed her glasses down on the mousepad. “Okay, so what does this have to do with the email you sent me this morning?”
“Yeah, about that,” Craig said. “Soooo… apparently the sketch was a huge hit, and Portlandia’s ratings were the highest ever. It went virile, as the kids say these days.”
Lisa opened a new Safari window and brought up YouTube. She keyed PORTLANDIA OBITUARY SKETCH into the search field and pressed ENTER. The official clip popped up at the top of the search results, boasting over eighteen million views within the last twenty-four hours.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Lisa said.
“That’s not even the weird part I was mentioning.”
“No.” Craig set his cup down on Lisa’s desk. “Due to the overwhelming success of the segment, we’ve received thousands of messages from people all over the United States looking to visit Portland and die, just to have you write their obituaries.”
“Craig, are you playing a prank on me or something?” Lisa slumped in her black, faux-leather chair. “It’s way too early for this.”
“I’m serious,” Craig said. “Folks are offering good money, too—more than we charge our advertisers. We’re sitting on a gold mine over here.”
Lisa stared at Craig, mouth agape, and waiting for a punchline that never came.
“Don’t worry, though,” Craig said. “There’s a pay increase involved here as well.”
“Not the part I was worried about, Craig.”
“Look, I get it, it’s a bit out there.” Craig picked lint off his tie. “Think of it as a service we’re providing for tourists. You know, giving them the true Portlandia experience.”
“What in the actual f—“
“Our first customer’s payment has already cleared our account, so I need you to get started right away in order to make tomorrow’s edition,” Craig said. “I sent you the details: Guy flew in from Billings, Montana late last night, then dropped dead first thing this morning on the Eastbank Esplanade. Write him something snappy.”
Lisa closed her eyes, hoping when she opened them again, she’d be back in bed staring at the bright green LED display of her alarm clock.
“You’re a rock star, Lisa.” Craig stood up and collected his cup of coffee. “Let’s make the families of these rich dead people proud to have had their relatives die in the Beaver State!”
When Lisa opened her eyes, Craig was gone, but she was still at work. She turned to her computer and scanned her emails, mortified to discover the conversation with her boss had actually taken place. It hadn’t been an aneurysm after all, despite her wishes to the contrary.
With a heavy sigh and a cracking of her knuckles, Lisa went to work on her assignment:
Meadows, Edward 42; February 12, 1973 – June 8, 2015
Edward Meadows, beloved partner of no one, and purveyor of nothing in particular, quietly passed at the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade surrounded by commuter cyclists, morning joggers, and customers waiting in line for Voodoo Donuts.
Although Edward enjoyed the sights and sounds of Portland through the magic of television, his visit to our lovely city was short-lived—literally. Fear not, fine citizens, Edward’s death was 100% organic.
Most Portlandians never knew Edward, but statistically speaking, at least twenty thousand of you had the opportunity to tell him you’re gluten free, and another five hundred of you would’ve asked him for spare change.
Edward did not arrive in Portland on the back of a unicorn, nor did he consume a single tablespoon of kombucha in our fair city, but in time, this Billings, Montana native surely would’ve opened a food cart, or at the very least, raised chickens.
Funeral services will be held this weekend at Pioneer Courthouse Square, presided by Petey, the Portland International Airport carpet. In lieu of flowers, the family of Edward Meadows humbly requests that you stick googly eyes on his casket. Portland Timbers memorabilia is also welcome.