“Tits up!”

Please forgive the title of this column. I wouldn’t dream of using those words in conversation. Not today. Not 30 years ago. But for reasons you might understand already or maybe in a few minutes, that vulgar little phrase is probably the perfect title for what might be the eulogy of an era. Besides, they’re not my words — I’m merely quoting a former mayor.

I don’t often find myself moved or saddened by the death of someone of whom I haven’t had a thought in years. But it happened this week with the death of Bud Clark, Mayor Emeritus of Portland. Clark’s departure seems to signal the bitter end of an era, at least to me.

Clark, if you remember correctly, served as Portland mayor from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. He became known internationally when he posed for Mike Ryerson’s “Expose Yourself to Art” poster, on which Clark was viewed from behind as he seemingly flashed Norman Taylor’s bronze nude “Kvinneakt” on Portland’s downtown transit mall.

But Clark was probably most fondly known as the gregarious and jovial barkeep at his popular neighborhood watering hole, The Goose Hollow Inn. My buddy likes to relate the tale when he and a group of other twenty-somethings received a boisterous invitation from an exuberant, grey-haired, bearded guy standing on the outside deck of The Goose, as the tavern was known. Sure enough, Clark was waving them up to enjoy a cold one, totally earnest in his hospitality to a younger generation. My buddy still recalls the evening as one of those cosmically perfect Portland nights where everything was splendid and the world was worry-free for a while.

Former Portland Mayor Bud Clark exposes himself to a little culture in 1978.

With the passing of Clark, they’re all gone. Clark was among the most colorful but he’s also pretty much the last of Portland’s unique downtowners.

Consider a few others. James DePriest, a giant in the world of classical music, will never be seen scarfing a Big Mac while wearing a tuxedo and sitting behind the wheel of his Cadillac outside the service door of the Schnitz. I’ve seen DePriest downing a quick dinner before a show at least three times. For that matter, the captivating lilt of Norman Leyden’s clarinet isn’t on the pops repertoire any longer, either.

Remember when Craig Berkman helmed a dignified and coherent Oregon Republican Party? Back then, two remarkably powerful senators might be seen hobnobbing in various venues around Portland from time to time. Today, you might see Mark Hatfield’s name on a building or two but you won’t even find Bob Packwood’s name scrawled on a restroom wall.

I had a friend who insisted I invite another former mayor, Vera Katz, to one of my parties so he could “pat her on the ass and tell her what a great job she was doing.” His words, not mine — and slightly milder than the titular mayor’s words. Katz could be colorful, herself, but not like Clark. Nobody was as lovably kooky as Clark.

It’s not just people, either. The Brasserie Montmartre is long gone.

Virginia Café made a gallant attempt to recreate its funky ambiance several blocks away from its signature cigarette-and-whiskey-stained wood, which was razed and replaced by clean granite and glass. Even if the V.C. made a good effort, the V.Q. disappeared without a trace.

Such joints went the way of peculiar Portland staples like Stephanie Pierce’s Church of Elvis, which, not coincidentally, was conjoined to what Pierce claimed was the world’s first 24-hour coin-operated art gallery.

A few blocks north, you’d never know Satyricon sold suspicious souvlaki out of a dingy walk-up window while little-known singers like Courtney Love or Kurt Cobain performed on the graffiti-streaked, beer-stained stage inside.

Even the quirky little brewpubs and breweries grew up, trading offbeat for mainstream, then selling out to giant beverage conglomerates. The aroma of hops from Henry Weinhard will never waft through the streets again — now, you’re lucky if all you can smell downtown is pee.

Collectively, these institutions firmly established that Portland had fairly won the “Keep Portland Weird” tagline from Austin, Texas. But today, these landmarks have been replaced by tourist traps like Six-Flags-Over-Cereal-Donuts or sterile Apple stores. At least the sterility of Portland’s Apple merchant is marred by the better-than-even chance that, at any given time, at least two of its windows have been smashed and await repair. Keep Austin Weird, indeed.

So far, Clark’s amiable tavern has escaped all this progress. The Goose lives but this week it lost its master.

Which brings us back to Bud’s words, two of them, a perfect title for this column had I written it 25-or-so years ago. It’s not so much that the words convey a distasteful misogynist message (they do) than that Portland once could take a distasteful misogynist message and see past the distaste and misogyny to find the ribald humor spoken by a mayor who was a character of characters.

Portland was vibrant, alive, a city that wanted to step boldly into the future. It was a city that could laugh at itself, so confident was it of its place in a progressively constructive world. Portland was a city that could take a joke.

Maybe I’m just being melancholy. Heck, a little woe on my part should go unnoticed in the sea of self-indulgence that marks the 2020s. There was something reassuring — emotional comfort food, maybe — about the late-night Portland television antics of public-nudity-advocate-and-Danny-DeVito-double Jim Spagg. Yep, he was naked. And probably even hairier than his doppelganger.

And while we’re on the topic of TV in the wee hours, drag-queen-cum-televangelist Sister Paula always had an uplifting message as long as you weren’t stuck behind her in the liquor line. That gallon of gin could throw off the center of gravity of any six-foot-four telepreacher, high heels or no.

Portland Mayor Emeritus Bud Clark revisits his favorite culture in 2013.

Always a populist, it’s easy to forget Mayor Bud Clark wasn’t always as popular as we tend to want to remember colorful dead people.

Penny Harrington, who died in 2021, was the first woman in the Portland Police Bureau to become a detective, a sergeant, a lieutenant and a captain before she was appointed chief of the bureau. Ms. Magazine named her “woman of the year,” that same 1985. The following year, Harvard Law School called Harrington one of the 10 most influential women in law. None of those distinctions would prevent Harrington from butting heads with the men entrenched in her command — and with her mayor. Less than two years into the gig, Harrington had enough.

Depending on who you ask, Clark exclaimed “Tits up!” in a badly misguided effort to cheer up a despondent Harrington or in an overly enthusiastic reaction to learning of her resignation.

As tacky and distasteful as I find those words, they were also funny in a bawdy Clarkian sense. In that quirky, old-school, keep-Portland-weird way, those two words sound so much better in the local history books than, I’m sure, they sounded at the time they were uttered.

And today, those two words are somehow the perfect disrespectful and irreverent words to toast the man who said them and the end of the era he so neatly represented.

While the safer, more polite part of me would’ve preferred a parting tribute like a mundane “last call,” the Portland side of me knows safe and mundane were never Clark’s talent and certainly never his preference.

Hopefully, I can be forgiven, just this once, for using Clark’s own words to send him off.

Tits up, Bud. Tits up.

Photograph © Portland Art Museum, top; © 1978 Mike Ryerson, center; © 2013 Ferrous Büller via Wiki, bottom

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