My employer recently moved our offices from a crumbling former lumber warehouse in central SE to the north Park Blocks, in the “Pearl District,” a chunk of alien world (for any long time Portlander) dropped against downtown Portland, and inhabited simultaneously on different planes by variants of “See Me’s”–from the gym or yoga rats to the fashionistas to the slimline rich to the drug dealers to the full spectrum of homeless, including the now nearly toothless lady beggar who wears a mask of terrible sweetness and sadness (which may not be a mask) and dresses in what were once very expensive and now threadbare or patched fashionable clothes (that she must know will hook the passersby in that neighborhood), standing across from Whole Foods holding out her floppy knit hat and gently asking for spare change–and how can anyone who’s just dropped a stack of bills at Whole Paycheck stroll past this grandmother without dropping something in her hat or even stopping briefly to talk. I saw her once with a tall, hairy younger man in his early 30’s, who was, I think, counting her money–made me think of Fagan or a beggar’s pimp. I’ve watched her lose teeth over the years and begin to slump, and can see that there’s nothing fake about that sinking into herself. I know all these layers of people exist in other parts of town, but the Pearly air’s so rarefied that they sail through it like panes of stained glass (some sailing on stormier courses than others, closer to the edges of their existence), everyone on display but never touching, and while we aren’t supposed to look (as some returned looks tell us), to not take them in would be like going to a gallery for the gift shop.

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