Portland’s Roads, 1799 Version

As our mendacious, cowardly Mayor has not been slow to advise us, the City of Portland has failed to maintain its road network [Your Intrepid Reporter is willing to give credit where it is due].

But the historical view, so often of interest if not beneficial in grasping the essentials in a confusing situation, as well, advises us that failure to maintain the roads of the Early Republic [it is to be hoped my readers need not be reminded that I am referring to the United States of America, circa 1790 – 1820, and not to some dim legends about best-forgotten sumps of papal superstition located near the mouth of the so-called Tiber River] was eloquently condemned in a letter to The Editor [the transcriber chooses not to rustle up the name of the newspaper to which it was addressed, but is willing to record that the text appears in Robert Slender (pseudonymn for Philip Freneau), Letters on Various Interesting and Important Subjects, a book which saw the light in 1799 {alas! place of publication not yet available}] which saw the light in 1799:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And who, one asks, is Philip Freneau, and why would the leading practitioner of third-person autobiography writing in Portland today bring him into the conversation? This short — well, for Your Intrepid Reporter, short! — excerpt from pages 376 and 377 of Main Currents in American Thought, by Vernon Louis Parrington, vol. 1, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954 [1st ed 1927], may make some of the connection clear:

He refused to stand apart. He would not hire a substitute to defend the cause of freedom. There was rough work to be done, and the democrats were too few to spare so competent a workman. So when poetry proved unequal to the task he turned journalist, and set to work in a field unclaimed by the muses. It was an immense sacrifice, bringing disaster to all hope of contemporary fame and tarnishing his reputation beyond his death.

His place in American letters was fixed by Federalist verdict, and he has since remained obscure and neglected by all, save an occasional historian who dips into a few poems, regrets that the smell of revolution is so rank and dismisses him . . . Only within recent years has a collected edition of his poems been accessible, and his prose writings remain buried in newspaper files.

In consequence the literary critics have echoed the political critics, and given new life to the old partisanship. Thus Professor Wendell remarks that “a considerable part of the poetry consists of rather reckless satire, not conspicuously better or worse than much other satire of the period.” Even Professor Tyler, usually so generous in sympathy for our early writers, dismisses Freneau with the words:

The poor old man found dead on the lonely New Jersey moor, had undoubtedly some sweetness in his heart; but he permitted very little of it to work its way down to the tip of his pen. . . . the reader finds scarcely one lyric of patriotic enthusiasm, not many lines to thrill the hearts of the Revolutionists by any touch of loving devotion to their cause, but everywhere lines hot and rank with sarcasm and invective against the enemy…

Of course Parrington quotes Professor Tyler only to show how false his view is [Parrington’s exact word is ‘untrue’]. But mes chers lecteurs will agree with my good friend Miguel Cabron that the phrases given above are as close a portrait of Your Intrepid Reporter as can be found.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Having heard that there was a new tavern opening about a half mile from my own favorite country retreat, where now and then a few neighbors meet to spit, smoke sears, drink apple whiskey, cider, or cider-royal, and read the newspapers — a few evenings ago I put on my best coat, combed out my wig, put my spectacles in my pocket and a quarter-dollar (This I thought was right: for although Mrs. Slender tells me elven-pence is enough, I says, says I, I’ll e’en take the quarter-dollar, for a man always feels himself of more consequence when he has got hood money in his pocket); so I walks with a good stout stick in my hand (which I always make a point to carry with me lest the dogs would make rather freer with my legs than I would wish).

But I had not gone more that half the way

Your Intrepid Reporter cannot help but point out the figurative applicability of the phrase just recorded by the pseudonymous Mr. Slender:

I walks with a good stout stick in my hand (which I always make a point to carry with me lest the dogs would make rather freer with my legs than I would wish).

There are dogs on the sidewalk here in Portland, but they’re mostly toy dogs, owned by people who want dogs but aren’t really willing to give a real, working, capable dog enough exercise. They’re owned by people who cheat. They’re what my older son, Michael Kepler Meo, calls “poppies,” Portland hippies, who want to savor the echoes of the Sixties fifty years later.

And these damn nuisances, these poor disabled excuses for animals, they’re afraid of everything bigger than themselves and they’re constantly barking at and running at the legs of travelers such as myself.

So I too recommend carrying a good stout stick: it does wonders for the improvement of the behavior of the toy dogs, not to mention the other kind.

Yes we have the other kind here in River City, in the Year Two Thousand Fifteen. There was the colloquy that happened at the Lloyd Center MAX station just the other day.

A black teenager wearing a diamond in his ear spoke to me as I walked up to the train.

“They’re delayed ‘cuzza the President.”

“Oh? Are you an employee of Tri-met?”


“Are you then a fellow traveler of mine?”


Perhaps you are innocent bystander, then?”


[long pause while I cope with the fact that he has excluded himself from having any real existence. If he, the speaker is not an employee and not a traveler and not an innocent bystander — which three categories, covering all possible incarnations of the speaker, exhaust the logical possibilities — then he isn’t there] “Perhaps I am using words with too many syllables?”

“What? Are you disrespecting me?”

“No, I just asked whether. . .”

“That’s good, because if you’re disrespecting me ” this full-grown male person with the mind of an uneducated grammar-school student then went on to threaten to bash my head in with a bottle. He carefully stood directly behind me while he uttered that and similar threats for a period of about a minute and a half. That is why I carry a good stout stick “lest the dogs [of Portland] would make rather freer with my legs than I would wish.” The last time I walked from the Lloyd Center MAX station across Holladay Park I carried such a cane, and I held seven adult males at bay. But let’s not talk about me all the time; let’s continue the quotation of Mr. Freneau’s interesting Letter to the Editor of 1799:

But I had not gone more than half the way, when, by making a false step, I splashed my stocking from the knee to the ancle.

Yes, the published poet P. Freneau in 1799 spelled it “ancle”: as is evident. Now, about not going more than half the way.

New Seasons opened a cafe not more than 400 yards form my house, and on Opening Day I strolled over to the so-called Grant Park Village to sample its offering. I had not gone more than half the way when I came upon the intersection of Northeast Weidler Street and 32nd.

At the corner of NE Weidler and 32nd, three corners of the intersection are owned by large commercial corporations with millions of revenues and profits. Those three quarters of the intersection have fully modernized ramps for pedestrians, with the little yellow bumps on them and the red rubber background. The fourth corner of the intersection, not dominated by Large Corporate Interests, but fronting land owned by homeowners, the salt of the earth — why that corner is without any pedestrian adaptation whatsoever, and is sporting a nice tall drop-off into the gutter.

Here in Portland, the corporations come first.

Well, anyways, that’s where I slipped and got my stocking (I wear above-the-knee stockings, as if I live in the 18th century) wet. Where the corporations had the intersections all rebuilt, but the City of Portland failed to touch the pedestrian way used by the residents.

But let us continue with what happened after the good Mr Slender wet his stocking through an inopportune step.

Odds my heart, said I, see what a hand I have made of my stocking; I’ll be bail, added I, I’ll hear of this in both sides of my head — but it can’t now be helped — this, and a thousand worse accidents, which daily happen, are all occasioned by public neglect, and the misapplication of the public’s money

Emphasis added by transcriber, a retired secondary school math teacher of emphatic opinions who is so overeducated he parades his learning on the Internet and counts it a public service.

But even so, you can see how we are talking, can you not? about Portland’s poorly maintained streets. Circa 1799, that is, more than fifty years before Portland was stolen from the Native Americans. Interesting, don’t you think?

But to continue with the pseudonymous Mr Slender’s Letter, which delves deeply into his interior monologue:

Had I, said I, (talking to myself all the while)

— transcriber notes in passing that current standard punctuation requires the comma go after the parenthetic clause, not before —

Had I, said I, (talking to myself all the while) the disposal of but half the income of the United States, I could at least so order matters, that a man might walk to his next neighbor’s without splashing his stocking or being in danger of breaking his legs in ruts, holes, guts, and gullies.

Hmm. That last phrase reminds Your Intrepid Reporter, that he might mention he lives in a neighborhood called Sullivan’s Gulch. I might break my leg in The Gulch, eh?

I do not know, says I to myself, as I moralized on my splash’d stocking

There’s something we don’t do much of nowadays, though, eh? Moralizing.

I do not know, says I to myself, as I moralized on my splash’d stocking, but money might with more profit be laid out in repairing the roads than in marine establishments, supporting a standing army, useless embassies . . . and chartering whole ships to carry a single man to another nation —

Ooo, do you see how clearly he is indicating that Portland’s roads would be better kept if we abolished the Army [Mr Slender terms it the “standing army”: he prefers a militia that only serves temporarily, as opposed to the more dangerous to civil liberties army employed year-round, or “standing army”] and Navy [Mr Slender here refers to “marine establishments, meaning he does not want to pay for a navy, a “marine establishment” of any sort] and reduced the expenses of our diplomatic corps.

Do you see, chers lecteurs, how Mr Slender is really talking with a tad of anachronism about Portland here and now?

We, too, ought to reduce to one-third of its present size our military; we too ought to use our navy solely for protecting our coasts; and I propose we could save a lot of money by not building the largest embassy in the world in Baghdad. But, deeper than all of that, the basic reason Mr Slender’s (of course, it’s Philip Freneau in drag) proposed allocations for spending give more yo the roads of the Infant Republic than to its armed forces is, Mr Slender opposes adventurist, expansionist military enterprises abroad.

So do I. Your Intrepid Reporter has a three-point program for the betterment ofThe Republic, now 240 years old as of the 18th of April [the anniversary of Paul revere’s Ride]. Close Foreign Military Bases. Healthcare for All as a Human Right. No Tuition in Public Universities.

Mister Slender would approve.

Pave the streets. Using the money we save by closing foreign military bases and providing healthcare for all as human right, we could suspend the taking of tuition in public universities. and pave the streets.

But first, abolish foreign military bases. And stop the policy of dominating the world by force. It cannot work.

If any of this makes sense to you, chers lecteurs, vote Green Party.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
This entry was posted in Cameron Whitten, Economics, Education, Elections, Empire, Fascism, Friendship, Inequality, Iran, Israel, John Schweibert, Local government, Marxism, Pacific Green Party, Permaculture, Police, Reservoirs, Spiritual life, U.S. Constitution, US Senate, War. Bookmark the permalink.

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