Being the founder of Strange Up Salem -- which has morphed from a regular column in Salem Weekly to a popular Facebook page -- I figure nobody in this town is more qualified than me to take on an awesomely important task:
Rank the nine members of the Salem City Council, the Mayor and eight councilors, in order of their strangeness.
Today is a propitious moment to do this. Yesterday Chris Hoy joined the Salem City Council, having been elected in a special Ward 6 election to fill the seat left vacant since Daniel Benjamin's resignation last fall.
So now that there's a full slate of city council members, the time has come to decide who earns the honor: Strangest of Them All
In order to string out the suspense, and also provide some philosophical justification for my ranking, I'll begin with some observations about strangeness from a highly credible source I have great trust in.
I mused about the positive meaning of strange in a 2016 post, "The good side of 'strange,' as in... Strange Up Salem."
I'm still strangeing away on a Strange Up Salem Facebook page. (Give it a like! I love likes!)
Yesterday someone left a visitor post that simply said, No, let's not.
That shocked me. How could anyone be opposed to strangeness? It's obviously so wonderful! But then I realized that I'd never paid much attention to what "strange" meant. I just felt it was a really good thing.
Because I've always been attracted to the positive connotations of strangeness. Which, after some Googling of "strange definition," were found to include:
not before known, heard, or seen
exciting wonder or awe
different from what is usual, normal, or expected
out of the ordinary
So, yeah!, I sure do want to Strange Up Salem. Let's make Oregon's capital city a fresh discovery, inspiring wonder, better than expected, way more than ordinary.
Defining strange, though, is much different from the experience of strange. A definition is conceptual; an experience is, obviously, experiential.
Everybody is different. One person can look upon something and find it appealingly strange. Another person can see the same thing and feel repelled by its strangeness. After all, "strange" also connotes:
not comfortable or at ease
causing puzzlement, perplexing
But maybe these supposedly negative aspects of strangeness aren't so different from the positive aspects. After all, who wants to be always comfortable, surrounded by the familiar, cushioned by certainty, relaxed and at ease?
Strange often feels like a jolt. A waking-up. A shock. A shove.
We're propelled out of a habitual way of experiencing the world. Yes, this can be disconcerting. Also, exhilarating. Or at least, a pleasurable break from a sojourn in the ordinary.
But it's damn well good enough to provide the basis for my Strangeness Ranking of the nine Salem City Council members. Which is necessarily subjective, flowing as it does from the downspout of my ever-so-personal mind.
I'll give a few brief reasons for my rankings. However, strangeness is decidedly intuitive, impressionistic, non-rational, holistic. I've been to many City Council meetings. I've interacted with the councilors in various settings. I know quite a bit about them.
Yet in the end, and that moment is close at hand (yes, I'm going to come up with my Strangeness Ranking on the spot after I finish writing this paragraph), a person's strangeness is grasped more as an ineffable Yes, Yes, Yes quality than as a calculated assessment of various characteristics.
[Note: the photos are official ones from the City of Salem website. Except for Chris Hoy's, which I grabbed from his Facebook candidacy page.]
9 -- Matt Ausec is the LEAST strange city councilor (Ward 5)
Sorry, Matt. I like you a lot, but my strangeness detector just gives off a few slight tinkles when I'm around you. Like all of us, I'm confident you have hidden depths of Strange. Let them roar more loudly and you'll move up the ranking ladder.
8 -- Next comes not-very-strange Steve McCoid (Ward 4)
"Edgy" isn't a defining quality of strangeness (in fact, nothing is). But pushing the envelope of normality is a good thing in the World of Strange, and Steve strikes me as being pretty much in the Normal sweet spot.
7 -- Brad Nanke is a bit stranger, but still in the bottom three (Ward 3)
Brad is competent, earnest, dedicated. Good qualities, but not strange qualities. He leans Libertarian, which gets him some political strangeness points. I sense some positive weirdness in Brad, but it's too well hidden to get him more than a #7 ranking.
6 -- Jim Lewis almost makes it out of the bottom strangeness half, but not quite (Ward 8)
5 -- In the middle of the rankings, the Goldilocks position, Chuck Bennett (Mayor)
As befits the City of Salem's top elected official who has both liberal and conservative leanings, Chuck occupies the #5 pivot point between the four least strange and four most strange City Council members. Sometimes he seems entirely normal to me; sometimes he seems out-there (in a good way).
4 -- Getting to the upper rankings, looks deceive in Sally Cook's strangeness case (Ward 7)
Sally is a sweet-looking woman with some spiciness under the surface. I recall a phone conversation with her when she surprised me with the sort of music she loves. Can't remember exactly, but I think it was hard-core rap. Regardless, beneath her gentle Mom surface, Sally has some Strange bubbling inside.
3 -- Newcomer Chris Hoy brings some needed strange to the City Council
I'm suspecting (and hoping) that Chris's strangeness quotient is even higher than I give him credit for in his #3 ranking. I find Chris very open and transparent, so whatever hidden Strange lurks within him probably is going to be on display as he settles into his city councilor role.
2 -- Cara Kaser earns the silver medal of Strange, and is a contender for gold (Ward 1)
Cara usually appears quite calm, cool, and collected. Yet when she speaks, it becomes clear there's a passionate fire burning inside. I sense there is more strangeness lurking within Cara than she generally chooses to reveal in public. So it was easy to give her the #2 spot.
1 -- the STRANGEST city councilor is... Tom Andersen
When I first met Tom I immediately thought, "This guy is different!" And not just because he favors bow ties and always rides his bike to City Council meetings. Tom has a certain crazed intensity that both appeals to me and shakes me up in a positive fashion. Best of all, his strangeness seems entirely normal to him. Unfeigned, unforced Strange is the best kind.
So congratulations, Tom. You're #1.
For now. The good news is, the Salem City Council has some up and coming contenders for your top strangeness spot.