Rodeo clowns are actors performing dangerous improvisational theater before live audiences. Wearing multicolored masks layered in gaudy grease paint, they symbolize ancient Greek muses. Protecting and liberating the rider from calamity is the job of Melpomene, the scowling face of Tragedy. Meanwhile Thalia, the smiley face of Comedy, is busy court-jesting and regaling children with tomfoolery. How well the theatrical performance is received depends, in large part, on the chemistry between these two opposing forces—Tragedy and Comedy.
From their table at the Golden Horse Restaurant in Portland’s Chinatown, Mary Leong, a youthful 90 year old, and Fred Wong, equally spry at 87, can glance in any direction and the memories come back to them. Over a lunch of rice porridge and beef chow fun, they banter about the neighborhood. With wry humor and wistful moments, they recall lives shared by their families across the arc of time, a mosaic of memories and anecdotal history of Portland’s Old Town Chinatown.
In 1892, a twenty dollar gold piece was sewn into the back of a jacket, worn by a gangly youth, en route to SanFrancisco. A quarter century of drawing pictures on walls and boxes led to this departure. Homer Calvin Davenport of Silverton left the nest of this rural nineteenth century Oregon town bound for the cutthroat world of a daily newspaper’s art department. Raw, self-taught talent, coupled with family connections, helped grease the skids of Davenport’s departure and eventual success.
In the early and mid 1970s, hundreds of dory fishermen set off from Pacific City in a quest that generously produced fishing legends. Ray Monroe had been there then, alongside his father and grandfather. As a young man, Monroe was one of the 300 or so commercially licensed salmon fishermen sailing dory boats out of Pacific City to harvest the bounty for which the Oregon Coast is renown. The old salts recount stories of making thousands of dollars in a single haul, full of fish, prized for its fight, profit and taste.