Pomo Picks

Pop Culture Worth Your Time: Jeopardy!, The Cold Millions, and More

The content in our queues, from Trebek's twilight Jeopardy! eps to an epic Spokane-focused novel.

By Portland Monthly Staff January 8, 2021

What a year this week has been. We postponed this column from its usual slot to keep tabs on Wednesday's extraordinary events at the US Capitol (check out some of our coverage here). But now, the weekend is here, and you probably want to turn your attention toward something that has nothing to do with the present fragility of our republic. On that front? We've got you covered. Here's what's helped steady us in this extraordinary first act of 2021. 

The Cold Millions

Confession, I have not yet finished this book, on purpose. I'm going slowly, to make it last as long as possible. No one writes quite like Jess Walter, the bard of Spokane, that under-loved third fiddle of Pacific Northwest cities. But Spokane was not always the spinsterish sister to Seattle's swagger and Portland's shimmer. In the early 1900s, the city was booming with mining and lumber money, its captains of industry living in honest-to-goodness splendor in the city's South Hill neighborhood. Down below, on the flats, day laborers for hire from around the world and from the nearby reservations slept rough and scraped by, fertile recruiting ground for the nascent Industrial Workers of World labor union, founded just four years earlier in Chicago.
Naturally, the titans of industry are displeased by this, and thus order up a bloody, indiscriminate police crackdown, the sort that will ring true to any Portlander who watched the arrest toll of this summer's Black Lives Matter protests with horror (or who was arrested themselves). It's a little too loose to call this historical fiction, though it is based on actual events and features fictionalized portrayals of real figures, like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the determined young union organizer from the East Coast who traveled West and went toe-to-toe with the union-busters.
The book’s central narrator, 16-year-old Rye Dolan, who is caught up in the city’s free speech riots, jailed and used as a publicity tool to elicit sympathy and donations by Flynn, even as one of the richest men in town tries to buy his complicity.  I don’t know yet how it all ends, but even halfway through, I can’t miss the parallels to right now, to an age of concentrated wealth where some people can say and do whatever they want, and get off scot free, while others need only open their mouths to be hauled off to jail. History does have a way of repeating itself—will we never learn? —Julia Silverman, news editor


In a week of idiocy, gaslighting, willful ignorance, and flat-out lies, I've been thankful for one last dose of Alex Trebek as the host of Jeopardy!, the show he helmed for almost 37 years before pancreatic cancer claimed his life in November. The shows no one knew would be his final five were taped in October and originally slated to air Christmas week, but got bumped by a collection of old favorites over the holidays.
Monday’s episode even had a category referencing December 21. (Tip: if you ever compete on Jeopardy!, look up any big events or anniversaries or ABC TV specials around when your show will air, says the person who really should have boned up on the Emmys.) Before the game began, Trebek turned to the camera and asked us to open our hearts to all those suffering from COVID-19: "We’re trying to build a gentler, kinder society and if we all pitch in, just a little bit, we’re gonna get there.” His final show airs locally Friday at 7 p.m. on KATU. —Margaret Seiler, managing editor

Li Ziqi

Li Ziqi makes my favorite genre of food YouTube videos. No annoying YouTuber dude’s voiceovers, none of this excessive, whirlwind “I visited ten restaurants in one day.” These videos are simply Li cooking—and often foraging, fishing, and harvesting—for her and her grandmother in rural Sichuan, complete with calming music, superb cinematography, and romantic images of self-sufficiency. I’ve enjoyed several of Li’s videos in the past, including this one on making luosifen (river snail soup). 

After the chaos of this week, Li’s video on preparing dried persimmons for good luck in the new year helped calm and cleanse my brain. Li climbs trees to harvest persimmons,, placing them into her homemade sack. She tucks a tiny persimmon into her hair for decoration, then peels each persimmon with a knife and hangs them to dry. Seasons change from fall to winter. Watching her tear open one of those dried persimmons, coated in its natural sugar and tender and juicy inside, I frantically Googled “Chinese dried persimmon where to buy.” 

But my favorite part of all is the grilling scene at the end, where Li grills mushrooms and slices of meat garnished with green onion atop a hot stone. One of her dinner guests stares at the sizzling meat, her tongue poking out from her mouth. Li then exquisitely plates everything on slabs of stone, garnished with purplish greens and caramelized to a perfect char. If Li Ziqi ever decides to open a restaurant, it’ll be on the top of my list. —Katherine Chew Hamilton, food editor

Love Is a Drag

In the waning days of 2020, I flirted with a melodramatic project: no music by straight people until June 2021. Spurred my steadily increasing consumption of AIDS-era stories (and a Christmas day viewing of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom), I became more and more curious about the queer musical pioneers whose legacies were cut short by disease or buried by time. 

Ultimately, Playboi Carti dropped an album shortly after this thought entered my head and I loosened my restrictions, but still, the heart of the project persists, and it's brought me some incredible finds. I've finally dug all the way into the catalogue of Arthur Russell, the disco/cello downtown genius who dated Allen Ginsberg in the ’70s before succumbing to complications from AIDS. I've rabbit holed deep into the story of Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington's best friend and chief collaborator, who was openly gay, friends with MLK Jr., and responsible for classics like "Take the A Train" and "Lush Life."

One of my favorite discoveries so far has been Love Is a Drag, a mysterious 1962 release from an uncredited vocalist. Sporting only the subtitle "For adult listeners only," the record is a straightforward lounge affair, with lush, well-sung renditions of standards like "Bill," "Bewitched," and "Mad About the Boy." The twist? They're all sung, with requisite passion and the appropriate pronouns, by a male crooner.

Liberace identified Love Is a Drag as his all-time favorite record, and before a repressing in 2016, copies sold for as much as $200. Without falling victim to Ryan Murphy levels of rose-colored historical revisionism, putting it on the speakers feels like entering a slightly separate history—a velvet-draped, smoke-choked ’60s club with a strong-jawed man on the mic, singing about the experience of a male lover turning you into a "whimpering, simpering child again." Escapism's great in appropriate doses, and this week, this has taken me the perfect level out of today and into a past I wish there was. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor

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