Ken Knee

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December 3, 2009 by David Gillaspie

Anesthesia effects made him chatty; knee surgery held him down.

“New money ruined the neighborhood.  Biker gangs selling take-out food turned into biker gangs sipping cappuccino.  Before new money a biker burrito might give you a stomach ache; after new money you might get an allergic reaction to the coffee club’s fragrance, Straight Pipe. 

The Wheel of Fortune Restaurant sold seventy five cent bowls of soup with half a loaf of bread.  Sounds like something from the Great Depression.  The only place serving soup like that is a soup kitchen.  Probably run by Bikers For Jesus.  A Moroccan restaurant moved into The Wheel’s space with new money.  The belly dancers stopped shaking the only time I walked in the door.

A place where everyone knew my name sat across NW 21st.  I knew the bartender and everyone knew his name, so it was the same thing without being a barfly.  It shared space in the middle of the block with derelict laundry mat.  Beautiful women came in on Wednesdays, party girls. 

They took long weekends to Palm Springs with married guys who told their wives they were going fishing.  Leave Friday, get back Monday, rest up on Tuesday, cash checks and break in slowly by Wednesday to get ready for their next Friday trip.

These were nice girls from good families, not street girls circulating in and out of jail.  They each knew they’d marry the rich man paying their vacation tab. 

“He said he’d leave his wife, that he hasn’t really loved her for years.”  That, or a variation on it, was a regular dream.

The best thing about NW Portland was walking everywhere.  After my knee heals I’m going back there and walk every street.  I’ll take my fat friend and make him play another basketball game in the alley.  I beat him last time.  I’m five foot eight, he’s six three.  It was a quality win and he knows it.  I’ll beat him again, too.  

We met on the sidewalk outside the Burgess, on Lovejoy near 21st.  Two guys were fighting.  A little guy and a big guy trading punches.  They were roommates in the apartment building.  The little guy knew how to fight like I know basketball.

He kept saying, “We don’t have to do this.  It can be over.  We can stop.” 

In between words he hooked and jabbed the big guy’s face to a pulp.  I didn’t step in to break it up.  Try that sometime and see if you don’t get punched for the effort.

The big guy said, “You didn’t do anything, man.  You let those guys treat me bad.”

Now the little guy treated him worse.  I found out later that they were up the street playing pool.  The big guy lined quarters up on the bar pool table and some other guys came over and threw them on the ground in a show of bad etiquette.  That’s enough reason to fight in seedy bar, but the little guy worked in the neighborhood and didn’t want any trouble.

“Let’s just stop now.”  Pop, pop, pop.  He threw a good punch, nice and compact, without dropping his guard.  The big guy dripped.


My friend stood on the outside of the fight circle.  He’d just moved into the building.  I’d seen him around, but not enough to talk to him.  He knew the fight game.

“That’s too bad,” he said.  “The little guy left his legs open.  If the other guy knew how to wrestle he would have taken him down and pounded him into the cement.”

“You think so?”  I said.  “He had things under control to me.”

“Watch this.”

He tapped my cheek and circled like a ballroom dancer.  Real quick.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s called a set up.  You think I’m going to the face, but I’m not.  In that moment of confusion I trip you and it’s all over.”

I liked him right away.

“Hey, I’ve seen you running.  Are you a runner?”

“I’ve got running shoes and shorts, so yeah.  We ought to take a run.”

We turned into running buddies, then family buddies, then helping each other move buddies.  We turned into friends.  He still has me listed as his emergency number for his kids.  I called him to help me get into my house after knee surgery and he showed up with a wheel chair.  He’s that kind of guy.

When my knee gets better I might start running again.  Maybe ride a bike.  I’ve got a stationary bike and a real bike so I’ll start there.  We’ll ride down to Northwest Portland and play that basketball game.  He thinks my last win was a fluke.  Well, it wasn’t and neither will my next one.

I got game.  I got skills.  The knee is a problem, but not for long.  You hear me?  Get ready, man.  I’m going to rehab my knee until I can jump through the roof, then I’m coming for you.  You’d better be ready because I’m not letting up this time.”


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