Here in Washington, some of the natives are yawning about Ronald Reagan's second inaugural. But out in Portland, Ore., voters are eagerly anticipating the inauguration tomorrow of their new mayor, J.E. (Bud) Clark, a tavern owner who is most famous as the man in the "Expose Yourself to Art" poster that has sold almost 300,000 copies. He's the one in the raincoat who's flashing the nude female statue.
"It started out as a VD poster," he says.
But then they had a caption contest in a local newspaper ("Wanna buy a watch?" and "No, ma'am, I don't have a bus pass," were among the entries), and, as it turned out, nobody could resist the winner. A wall decoration for thousands of college dorms and rec rooms was born.
Not long ago, Clark took some time out from his transition duties to have a few beers at his yuppie-filled Goose Hollow Inn in Portland and to talk about his upcoming life as mayor. He is 53, portly, bearded and charming. He is so oddly candid as to be enigmatic, spilling out the nomadic life story of a member of the beat generation that turns any success formula on its head. Once he was the night pickup man at a mortuary. Another time, he says, he wandered down to Big Sur, fell asleep in the woods behind an inn, was awakened by a woman who needed a dishwasher, and thereupon found a job. His last elective office was as treasurer of his high school senior class.
But that doesn't worry him.
"It's like the first time you go for a job," he says. "If you don't belong to the union, you can't get a job, but unless you have a job, you can't belong to the union. It's a Catch-22. But I've been running a business for 23 years, I've participated for 15 years in neighborhood associations, I've delivered Meals on Wheels, and I've met a payroll."
He was holding court at a battered corner table in his cozy, ramshackle inn, where the women's room graffiti includes lines such as, "Bud, if you get another bathroom stall I'll vote for you." There are 2,000 record albums stored above the bar. Clark says the inn sells more beer per square foot than anyplace else in the United States. While he talked, he kept track of the number of beers he himself was drinking by marking each one on a small card in his breast pocket. By late afternoon, he was on number five for the day. "I'm trying to cut down," he says. "It takes a lot of time to drink beer." Once he tried to institute a no-smoking rule at the inn on Mondays, but when they got down to one keg for the night, Clark said no more.
Clark, a popular community activist who once said he was a "born-again pagan" and who had to publicly apologize after he called the outgoing mayor a "nasty son of a bitch," won an upset victory in the nonpartisan May primary against Frank Ivancie, the incumbent Democrat. He beat him again in the general election in November, although Ivancie got close to 42,000 votes as a write-in candidate. Clark is a former Republican who registered as a Democrat a month before the primary. In a time when the Democratic Party is searching for its identity, he doesn't appear to be much help at all.
Ivancie didn't take Clark seriously until a week before the primary, and by then, it was too late. Clark won big among the young urban professionals who crowd the poached-salmon-and-cold-pasta cafe's of downtown Portland and who saw Ivancie as an old-school pol. "I promised them participation," says Clark, who ran an optimistic, upbeat campaign supporting stronger neighborhoods, youth employment, economic development and a war on crime.
He identifies with what he calls "the people of the 1960s," even though he came of age in the '50s. He has been featured in national magazines and has appeared on "The Tonight Show," but always as an eccentric, even a joke. Yet his three pages of single-spaced biographical material -- and his own reflections on it -- reveal a deeper searching and confusion, the kind that also marked the lives of "the people of the 1960s" who voted for him.
He was conceived, the biography reports, in March 1931 in La Grande, Ore., and born on Dec. 19, 1931, in Nampa, Idaho. His parents were divorced when he was 18 months old. When he was 5, he moved with his mother to a boarding house on Union Avenue in Portland, which still evokes, as the biography reports, "memories of a city of streetcars and old men."
"We lived near the railroad station," he says, "and there were all these old men around. I said, 'I don't like this place.' I was of a single-parent family, and I think it was probably psychological."
His mother continued to play a big part in his life during college. "I went to Vanport College a now-defunct school that was the forerunner of Portland State University , and was going to major in finance and minor in chemistry," he says. "I was probably going to work for an oil company. I had everything very well planned out. I was very straight, very psyched, very well directed. But then, my mother wrote me a letter and told me she'd found this wonderful man. I came back to Portland, and here was this guy. He was married, and he had a kid. It just blew my mind away. It kind of destroyed my image of my mother. I was in a state of shock, and then, one Friday, I said I wanted to go into the Marine Corps. What I was saying was that my mother didn't give a damn about me. I was 18."
After the military, he entered Reed College and studied psychology, but dropped out after two years. "I was kind of in limbo then," he says. He worked at the mortuary, where he lived. "You're on call if somebody dies in the middle of the night," he says. "It was a good job, because I had a place to stay, a wonderful place to live." Several years later he started his own company, Aardvark Pest Control ("Aardvarks eat termites," he says), took a job as a waiter and then, in the summer of 1959, the biography reports, he "ran away from home to the Big Sur coast." He was 27.
"I just kind of said, 'The hell with it, I'm going to be an albatross and roam the southern sea.' " He worked as a cook and waiter for Deetjuns Big Sur Inn, then married an old high school flame he rediscovered after she came to visit one weekend. She was killed a year and a half later in a car crash. "I was drunk for a year," says Clark. "My life had just begun, you see. And I wanted to have a family. And I thought, 'Well, the world's just shot.' "
He married his current wife, Sigrid, a first violinist with the Oregon Symphony, two years later. "It was very hard on Sigrid, those first few years after we got married, because I didn't want to get attached too much," he says. "I was afraid I'd lose her or something. One gal once asked me, 'Why'd you get married?' One of the reasons I gave her was sex. Well, that is one of the reasons, obviously. But she put that in as the reason. This was in the paper . . . Both my wife and I are very tolerant of each other. I didn't treat her that well those first years, but now the communication has gotten better. Each 10 years has gotten better and better and better." This year they celebrated their 20th anniversary.
The Goose Hollow Inn was born in August 1967, the same year Clark inaugurated "Meatless Tuesdays" to remind patrons that there was a war going on in Vietnam. For the next 15 years, Clark got increasingly involved in community activities, serving on various boards, including the Venereal Disease Action Committee. In 1974, he started a local newspaper, and in 1976 he wandered down to downtown Portland and had the picture taken by friend and photographer Mike Ryerson as a joke. Ryerson let the picture sit around for a year. "I didn't think it would ever be anything," he says. "It was just a joke. In fact, I didn't care much for it. I thought it was a little bit sexist."
So what does he think now?
"I don't have one in my home," he responds.
Ryerson says three separate people came up with the winning caption -- a 12-year-old girl, a wheat rancher and a television news reporter. They split the $25 prize three ways.
The poster, which sells for $5 to $10 nationwide, nets the local newspaper about $20,000 a year. But its real value to Clark's career is unquestionably much more than that. "It didn't hurt him," Ryerson says. "A lot of people thought, 'Anybody who's got the guts to do that is my kind of guy.' "
In the meantime, Clark knows he has a lot to prove as mayor.
"I've never been a politician before," he says, then immediately changes his mind: "You have to have an image in the tavern business," he amends.
"Actually, I've been a politician all my life."