I finished reading the mail, leaned back hard into the office chair, and tipped up the glass held in my left hand. A slug of rotgut-laced coffee burned its way down to a perennially empty stomach; both the gut and the chair groaned in complaint. The note had said that Brian Darr, the famous sleuth and blog scribbler who covers the Hell on Frisco Bay, was coming up from Frisco to catch some pictures at the 32nd Portland International Film Festival. He knew I squatted in Stumptown but not exactly where. He suggested a face to face. Unsure of his motives, my mind leafed through the hundreds of times we've corresponded for a hint of danger. Was he interested in a jovial chat about the pictures or setting an angry record straight? What if our online friendship broke down once we looked each other in the eye? There was no way to be sure. So, for now I played it cool.
Sure, sure, let's meet, I wrote back. But where? It had to be someplace very public in case things got ugly; someplace where I could sit with my back to the wall so there'd be no surprises. I suggested a downtown gin joint I used to frequent back when I wore a badge that said "working stiff." It's perfect: good food, plenty of sauce, and a guy behind the bar who knows it's sometimes healthier to look the other way. It's also quiet enough that we could hear each other sweat a little.
First though I had a previous engagement to fulfill at PIFF. I had arranged to be at a screening of Sugar (2008), a sports drama that traces the rise and fall of a minor league pitcher recruited from the Dominican Republic. It's a human story injected with plenty of laughs and pathos. Very heartfelt, entertaining stuff. It didn't rise to that elusive level called "spectacular," but how many films do? Then again, maybe I was just preoccupied with the needles poking me 'cause I knew he was somewhere in the dark screening room. I looked around and tried to spot him as the flickering projector caused shadows to leap about the walls. No luck. For all I knew he could be sitting right next to me...
I'll skip the minor details and simply write that we indeed met and repaired to the tavern I'd picked out. I sat with my back to the wall as planned. We both ordered something strong, quaffed it back, and settled into our chairs a bit. There we were. Eye to eye. A moment passed. Two.
Then it happened. One of us said, "so, what did you think of the movie?" And the floodgates opened. We spent the rest of the evening rambling on subjects as diverse as Sugar, memes, Sunrise (1927), F.W. Murnau, The Mortal Storm (1940), UPA cartoons, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, camping, Flesh and the Devil (1926), overlooked films from late 1930s, John Ford's Four Sons (1928), silent film screenings, The Steel Helmet (1951), the Film of the Month Club, G.I. Joe (1945), books, Gate of Hell (1954), Thailand, Intolerance (1916), work, Marines Who Never Returned (1963), family, Gone with the Wind (1939), Georges Méliès, and writing about our favorite things. We got along famously. I recognized the same smart, genuine, good humored guy that appears in his writing, and I thanked him for all the times he pulled something out of my post topics that I didn't realize was there. It felt as though we'd known each other for years and we tried our best to squeeze a million conversations into a few short hours.
Afterwards, while I listened to the click-clack of the light rail carrying me back home in the darkness, it occurred to me that Brian and I have known each other for years if only through our writing in the blogosphere. I suppose not every friendship demands that you look a guy in the mug, especially with the technology available to us these days. But it's nice to shake hands once in a while.