The Return of The Turkey of St. Johns


This time of year always has me thinking about turkey. When I think about it I’m trying to figure out who’s cooking it, (never me) and where I’m going to eat it. There’s usually some consideration about recreating the turkey sandwich Thanksgiving from many years ago – our go-to Plan B. It really wasn’t that bad. Lately any turkey thoughts include the Turkey of St. Johns. Last fall, I searched for evidence of a turkey kept in a pen in the front yard of a home in that area. It’s something I remember seeing a long time ago, but years later there was no trace of the avian apparition. I received a tip after posting about it on facebook last year directing me to a street different from the one in my memory.  After last Thanksgiving, I rode my bike up and down N. Polk Street to no avail. There weren’t even any neighbors outside to accost with ramblings of pet turkey sightings.


When I feel like giving up on my quest for the St. Johns’ Turkey, I push to go back to the back part of the deep recesses of my memory bank. After waiting in line for an hour, I am led by a doughy bank employee with a tiny key. There, in the back of a box, dark despite the greenish flourescent lighting, is a faint memory that’s getting fuzzy and faded with age. It’s one of an ephemeral, strangely fluffy turkey with plumage that haunts me to this day. Happening upon that giant, lumbering bird gobbling it up on someone’s front yard creeped me out.  As much of an impression as that made, all evidence including anyone else’s remembrance has vanished. I’m here to tell you, I saw the Turkey of St. Johns. It was real! Someday I’m going to find that bird.

I believe in the Turkey of St. Johns.  The memory year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow, I will ride faster, open up my eyes wider . . . and then one fine morning— So I search on, stumbling against the current, pushed back ceaselessly into the past.


Mystery Businesses

Where's the sign?

Where’s the sign?

There are secret businesses operating all over Portland. I know, I know that has the sound of the beginnings of a weird conspiritorial rant but it’s probably not that big a deal. These operations do their thing in nondescript buildings that fit the description that the phrase undisclosed location brings to mind. There’s no prominent identification, no signs so it’s hard to tell what’s going on behind closed doors. My assumption is that the businesses have a name but for whatever reason they’re not telling and I don’t get it.

A lack of signage creates an air of mystery around businesses. You’d think any establishment would want to shout out it’s name to excite the world and get people interested in what they do. My limited business sense tells me signage is important. Is this post a cry for appropriate signage or for any at all? That’s part of my complaint. Come on! Opportunities for graphic art designs to come to life are being thwarted here.

Planning this blog post had me curious about the goings on of these places and their low profile. Sometimes it’s a challenge to determine what happens on the inside of a building. There might be clues but that doesn’t confirm anything.

Everything seems to be about name recognition but these places aren’t playing by these rules. I’m not saying the mystery is bad, it’s more perplexing as to why these places don’t introduce themselves. It keeps me wondering. I may also just be curious or nosy but I feel excluded like these businesses are telling me it’s none of my business.

Food Factory?

Good enough to eat.

Good enough to eat.

It wasn’t a rumor but more of a vague memory mentioned in some Kenton neighborhood news release that a bagel company was moving into our area. It’s still hard to tell. I’ve never smelled bagels baking. I do see kitchen equipment on warm nights when they leave the doors open in the back. Still, why not hang an oversized rendering of the food item being manufactured along with the name of the company? Are the people who work there worried that other people would line up outside the building entrance looking to buy the food product being manufactured. Bagels would be popular so a low profile prevents long lines of unsatisfiable bagel shoppers.

I do have to say this is a great neighbor. They are quiet, they keep their odors to a minimum and if they make bagels, I love them and maybe I’ve had eaten their product somewhere in town.


Image borrowed from the internet.

The building used to be the home of Branom Instruments. The old sign never shed any light on the mystery of what a Branom instrument is. Despite all this being left in the dark stuff, I’m at least glad to see the building back in action.

Warehouse Stories

Tracks of my tears

Tracks of my tears

This is another one of those locations where I’m relieved to have any business there at all, even if I have no idea what it is. The building, on Interstate Ave, was dormant for too long. When we moved here over eight years ago the previous tenant had something to do with car repair from what I recall. It looked like a cool building and I hated to see it vacant. During those empty years there were exterior paint jobs and graffiti attacks and signs advertising for an occupant. After a few too many years, a crew spruced up the space and cars filled the parking lot along with a shed and a canopy. A mural was added, a nice touch, but it offered nary a clue as to what goes on in the building. I spotted large ceramic jars through a window in the back which might be my best guess as to what they produce.

This place can do what they want as long as they keep the cool 3D mural around.

This place can do what they want as long as they keep the cool 3D mural around.

Bring your 3D glasses over!

Bring your 3D glasses over!

Mystery Body Shop

Irregular hours for side jobs.

Irregular hours for side jobs, I think.

It’s not much of a mystery because it’s clearly an auto mechanic/body shop that faces Interstate Ave in our Kenton neighborhood. It doubles as a junkyard due to the bumpers and other car parts piled high behind a tall chain link fence. I’m going to bemoan, once again and ad nauseum, the lack of signage but why not display a spiffy name even if it is a laisser-faire operation. There’s something shady about a place that can’t tell you who they are or bother to come up with a name. That has to be the fun part of starting a business. Their anonymity is part of the deal of living in a neighborhood where we’re surrounded by plenty of other nameless neighbors.

Glass Works?

How to succeed in business,

How to succeed in business.

The industrial gray paint job stands out. It appears fresh amidst drab surroundings on Fessenden Ave. Upon closer inspection I could see it wasn’t a shop. The lack of any sign on the building and the blocked off windows revealed nothing. So, here’s a pro tip. If you want to know something you hang around. I kept walking by at lunchtime and one day noticed some glass blowing happening through on open door. This explained the pile of broken glass outside the side of the building.

That's a pile of glass shards.

That’s a pile of glass shards.

Mystery Biz

No sign of business.

No sign of business.

This was another business I noticed that didn’t identify itself. I took the picture in passing so I didn’t spend any time to figure it out. There could be a sign around the corner but there’s nothing obvious to me. It’s also an odd mix of architecture that might make more sense based on the tenant.

So you may have already asked yourself why this blogger hasn’t gotten off his duff (that’s an old fashioned word for keister) and done some research or reporting, you know like knock on a few doors. Well, I would do that but I’m leaving said door open for a part two to this post. In time I will find out something that takes the mystery out of these operations and I’ll pass on my findings.

A Message of Mystery: Graffiti Abuse


My goal in creating this blog is to document creative pursuits. I’m interested in any form of expression. Graffiti keeps sneaking in as subject matter because it’s everywhere and hard to ignore. I worry that in bringing attention to an art form rooted in vandalism, I’m encouraging these efforts, but really, it’s hard to imagine anything that could stop it. The more I live with graffiti and see examples of it that I appreciate, the more tolerant I become.

I’m partial to graffiti that’s clear and easy to understand whether it’s in legible lettering or words that make sense. If you’re dropping Cy Twombly-like scribbles I end up with a giant question mark in my brain. Letters from the English alphabet allow me to consider the message behind the spray painted designs. Often interpretations are based more on my imagination than anything else.

A case for the Abuse graffiti would start with that word. It’s a powerful word that could mean anything depending on the context. Abuse graffiti is usually paired with a second word that compounds the message. The lettering, big, bold and round, is hard to miss. The message seems be spotlighting the world’s wrongs.


Words like deep, mutant and “antsi,” a play on the word antsy, maybe?, add a layer of mystery. These feel like brief poetic phrases that point to an underlying unease. I find it refreshing. Give me something to think about graffiti artists! If you want to shout, get to it. Wake me up with your message and watch me wax Walt Whitman style! These efforts are also appreciated for keeping it clean, not that there’s that much profanity in the graffiti I see.


The abuse graffiti tends to be done in a large format. That takes space and explains why one paint job hijacked a billboard. This earned points for effort and climbing skills. Billboard advertising is often annoying so a bit of “abuse” breaks up the monotony. I noticed the billboard was advertising a health care program. This led me to wonder if our artist is making a political statement or if the billboard represented an opportunistic canvas with better visibility.


Abuse is declared on a variety of surfaces, a fence by the railroad tracks that run along Lombard/Hwy 30, an old warehouse building, another feat of daring in what looks like a medium other than spray paint and the one that bummed me out, the Exotica Strip Club. It was reported (can the Portland Orbit use that word?) on this blog that Exotica was planning to reopen after some renovation. A giant splash of paint, no matter how decorative or even intriguing, is sure to delay those efforts.


In the end depictions of abuse, however intended, can be found graffiti style for those observant folks drawn to street art. Sometimes it’s in more prominent places while other times you have to look for it on the other side of the tracks. Someone out there has a message. The need for people to express themselves against a dark force like abuse gives power to art in any form it takes.


The Emerick Collection



If you end up at the Sunnybrook Medical Center it may be due to an injury requiring the services of a trauma surgeon. Or you may have something stuck in your ear, nose, throat or somewhere else necessitating a visit to the ear, nose, throat, or somewhere else department.

Thanks to a display tucked away in the lobby of the ENT department, I learned all manner of objects can be and are lodged in the human body.


The framed story of Dr. Charles Emerick* greets those, suffering and not, who enter.  He collected these items during his service at a missionary clinic in India and a Naval hospital in San Diego. His career summited Mt. Scott at Kaiser Permanente where he cached his loot of curiosities upon retirement. The display educates patients, staff, and visitors of the dangers of things and bodily cavities and the  coexistence of the two. The origins of this collection, while not discussed in the brief write up, are what intrigue me. That spark, that moment of inspiration when Dr. Emerick committed to starting his collection had me wanting to dig (pun may or may not be intended, I’m just not sure) into this story and uncover more than what the lobby offers.


Thanks to modern technology, I was able to access an article about Dr. Emerick. The old school alternative would have had me in library basement futzing with microfiche and an ancient, bulky machine. I found one secondary source available with ease, an Associated Press article that ran in a Fredericksburg, Va. newspaper in 1997. Dr. Emerick had been retired for seven years. A photo showed him looking over his collection. I read looking for the source of his inspiration to collect what are referred to in the story as “items.” And there it was!** Emerick explained he, “was inspired to keep the items because he heard Dr. Chevalier Jackson, a pioneer in endoscopy, had such a collection.” Note that endoscopy is how an item, once lost in the esophagus, trachea or lung, is located.  A hollow lighted tube illuminates the included object; it then takes an additional piece of gear for removal should the object prove an obstruction or irritant or otherwise inconvenient or unwanted addition to the patient.


It’s noteworthy that the AP writer made an attempt to locate Dr. Jackson’s collection which was last seen at Temple University Hospital. A spokesman uttered the sad words, “nothing remains of the collection.” This gives Dr. Emerick’s achievement heightened stature and highlights its remarkable staying power simply persisting in its low key existence, not as some central attraction of a national medical museum but in the quiet confines of Kaiser’s ENT waiting room.


Looking over the items housed in the display case with revolving shelves, the kind of display case you find in antique stores, was as fascinating as it was gross. The first consideration seems to be with the item itself. I thought about the size and shape of the bagged and tagged objects before moving on to contemplate where each was found. It never failed to amaze me.


It’s rare to see evidence doctors put this much effort into their jobs. Trash cans have been filled so thoughtlessly over the years. Body junk salvaged from many an Ear, Nose and Throat languishes in landfills, yet the experiments and accidents of Dr. Emerick’s patients live on in a display case in Portland carefully preserved and labeled.  It is detritus for all time, but also significant and instructive. Whether a pilgrimage must be made to this strange menagerie is up to you unless you’re accident prone or careless with either money or crayons.  If that’s the case, a few extra minutes checking out this collection on the third floor could be worth thousands in future medical expenses.


*After a bit of confusion, I figured out that Emerick was the last name of the doctor and not a medical term referring to stuff lodged in the human body.

**Mrs. Yuchmow having to justify using the word “and” at the beginning of a sentence always makes me try to find a way to not do it, but I needed to add drama to my story and discovering a tidbit of information concerning something I had been wondering about for a long time but hadn’t gotten around to checking out inspired that sentence: And there it was. Yes you told your students in Princeton, NJ, back in the day, that under most circumstances they shouldn’t start a sentence with the word “and.” In this case you should just be glad I didn’t use an exclamation point.