Warm-hearted agitator

Chico essayist releases collection of writings

Anthony Peyton Porter

Anthony Peyton Porter

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Can He Say That?
Available at The Bookstore (118 Main St.) and itascabooks.com/can-he-say-that

For a man who is as gentle as men come, Anthony Peyton Porter has a way of eliciting angry responses to his writings.

I can personally testify to that. During most of the decade from 2005 to 2014, when he penned a weekly column, titled From the Edge, for the Chico News & Review, I was the paper’s—and therefore his—editor. I can’t tell you how many phone calls I got lambasting me for allowing him to pollute the public consciousness.

On the other hand, a much greater number of people thought his column was the best part of the paper. “It’s the first thing I read,” they often told me. That, or “It’s the only thing I read,” which stung.

As Porter put it during a recent interview at Chico’s Blackbird cafe, “Some people like my work. Others think I’m the devil incarnate.”

Altogether, Porter wrote nearly 400 pieces for the CN&R on a wide range of subjects. The column’s title was appropriate: His essays often were edgy. It pleased him that some readers objected to them. He liked to shake things up. Conventional wisdom was often conventional delusion, in his view.

Of the people who object to his essays, he has this to say, in a piece titled “Disturbed and Overwhelmed”: “Many people seem to expect all of us to respect what they respect, and to be disturbed when that doesn’t happen.”

Porter now has gathered 100 of his essays—most from the CN&R, but a few from radio shows and publications in Minneapolis, where he lived before moving to Chico in 2005, and some from local community radio station KZFR—into a self-published book with the provocative title Can He Say That? (available online at itascabooks.com/can-he-say-that/).

Porter is a lower-case libertarian. He doesn’t trust government and thinks that it should stay out of people’s lives. His book’s opening essay, titled “Cops,” makes that clear from the get-go.

He writes: “I am astounded at the number of people who expect the police to protect them from their neighbors and who are not only willing to put up with incessant police presence but actually want more cops around.”

“Cops” was written in 1997, when Porter lived in Minneapolis. He wrote the second essay in this book, “Good Cops,” in 2014, long after he’d moved to Chico. He’d recently had some contact with the police that made him want to add to the discussion “because there are good cops.”

He’d “run across seven or eight Chico cops and a most helpful Butte County deputy,” he writes, and he now saw that “there are situations in which one’s best bet is to call the cops, something I’ve never wanted to do.”

This willingness to change his mind and highlight that change in his book’s opening essays is typical of Porter. He’s not irrevocably attached to his views. He knows they’re just concepts, and I picture him chuckling to himself as he develops another delightfully outrageous argument with his usual wit and insight.

Everything changes, as Nina Simone once sang. In “Impermanence” (2012), one of several sad but luminous essays written about his wife, Janice, who was dying of cancer, Porter writes movingly of the tenuousness of life—hers, his, yours. For a provocateur, he’s remarkably warm-hearted.