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Monday, February 18, 2013

The people we don't know, the people we do.

I've lived in Portland for almost twelve years. I've met a lot of people over the course of these years. Some became close friends, some drifted away. This happens with everyone, I suppose. Sometimes you lose touch with people not because something bad has happened between you, but just because the trajectories of life reach different destinations.

There have been many people over the years I would classify as casual acquaintances, people I know because of mutual friends or interests, but when interests change or friends become less so, you don't see these folks anymore, except maybe in passing.  These people weren't bad people, but they never clicked with me in a way that I would pursue a friendship independent of the situations we interacted normally.

This is a story of one of these casual acquaintances.

His name was Paul. I met him in 2002. He was a writer tertially involved with the local zine scene, which I was heavily involved in at the time, and friends of folks that were acquainted with my friends. I went to a reading of his at Reading Frenzy that I thought was decent, but not mind-blowing. The big hook of his monologue (other than being dressed in a bathrobe) was Paul opened a can of condensed milk while talking.

During this era of my life I worked at the many-years-defunct-by-now Abbacy Post on Hawthorne,* next to Powells. The Abbacy was a small-scale independent mailing outlet (similar to Mail Boxes Etc/UPS Store or Postal Annex, but without the polo shirts), and being on "funky, bohemian"** Hawthorne I had a steady stream of eclectic customers ranging from fellow zinesters, Hawthorne characters, local "rock stars", and the like. Paul would come in on his razor scooter to mail stuff and shoot the breeze. This happened a few times. I found him an affable gentlemen, but I had the sense that he was seeking more of a friendship while nothing was clicking with me.

The Abbacy Post closed at the end of 2002, putting me on a path of living a somewhat thrilling and somewhat scary "not working full time job" life until 2006,*** when I got my job at the hostel. I probably ran into Paul a few times after the Abbacy closed, but lost touch with him. And forgot about him, as happens with many casual acquaintances.

Then, a couple years ago, Paul came back on my radar. He moved into a basement apartment on the SE 32nd "Alley" just south of Salmon. I use this alley to cut between work and Belmont. One day I noticed him standing out in front of the place. Over the past few years I would see him there occasionally, sometimes smoking a cigarette, other times fiddling with a moped, and many times using a yo-yo. He always seemed in his own world, and sometimes I'd say "hello" in passing, but that was that. I don't know if he remembered who I was, and even if he did, we didn't have much to go on.

Then last week I rode past on Wednesday and noticed a flower in a glass in front of his door. I didn't think much of it. Until Friday when I passed and saw all this stuff taped to his door. I stopped, turned around, and took a look. I had a feeling it wasn't going to be good. Did Paul pass away? It seemed like he did. I went to work and got on the internet to find more. While waiting for the search results, I was hoping that it wouldn't be suicide, but the internet confirmed my fear. He took his own life by overdose on February 7th. And on his website was his suicide note.
A clipping from the local alt-weekly Portland Mercury of a reading Paul did. This must be at least ten years old, I 'm amazed someone  had it.

I was filled with sadness and regret. Sadness of what happened, obviously. And regret that I didn't get to know him. He seemed like a cool enough guy. Why didn't I pursue some sort of friendship? Why didn't I try to get to know him, whether in 2002 or 2012?

I'm a loner by default. This is due to many factors: an only child, being the smart, weird, fat kid growing up, pursuing solitary hobbies like drawing, etc. By the time I graduated high school I had some acquaintances but no one I would classify a "good" friend. After high school I started to make real friends, and have made plenty more since I moved to Portland. And I can definitely be social and like hanging out with people. But my default mode is still "loner" and I'm comfortable doing this by myself. (See: solo bike touring.) While I prefer the company of others, I don't necessarily need to be around other people. This is definitely good in some ways, but the biggest drawback to loner default is I'm not always good at maintaining friendships, especially if these are people I don't see on a regular basis.

Dylan was my closest friend when I moved to Portland in 2001. He was a fellow cartoonist I met through the mini-comics world and Dylan and his girlfriend Emily hosted me for the first month of my life in Portland. We hung out a bunch during the first few years I was here. We travelled to comics shows. He even got me a job at his work.
A Polaroid of myself (l) and Dylan, taken in my first Portland apartment on SE Morrison. I believe this was the night of my 27th birthday in 2002. This was an era when I gave the bird in photos a lot. And wore white cotton socks. How times have changed. Photo by Sarah Oleksyk.

But slowly we started to drift apart. This started around 2004 as I slowly started to move away from comics and zines and move more into the bike world. Dylan didn't ride, so he wasn't a part of that scene. And I remember he actually was a bit offended when I started the Urban Adventure League, telling me so in an email where he felt my pseudo-manifesto was directed towards him.**** We still remained friends and saw each other, but these occasions became less frequent as there were less excuses to run into each other.

Then in September of 2011 Dylan passed away. I was on the Cross-Country Tour at that point and received the news when I was in Minneapolis. The fact that he died was not a big surprise to me, as he had struggled with leukemia since 2003. The idea that Dylan may pass away was always in the back of my head, but still his death was a shock. He had been doing so well for so long. But what really hit me was I realized that I hadn't seen nor spoken to Dylan in probably a year before his passing.

But why? Dylan lived two blocks from the Belmont Library, a place I go to on at least a weekly basis. Not only that, his house was on my commute route when we lived in Montavilla. It wouldn't have been hard to drop by, but I didn't. And I'm really pissed at myself now for that. I miss Dylan immensely, and think about him frequently. There's not a week that goes by without me reading or seeing something, or thinking about something, and wondering "I wonder what Dylan would think of that?" But he's no longer around for me to ask.

Later on Friday, I rode back through 32nd Alley, and in front of Paul's house was a bunch of stuff, with signs saying "Free". Paul's worldly possessions. A collection of things collected over a lifetime: books, records, bric-a-brac. I saw Paul's razor scooter, probably the same one he rode to and from the Abbacy Post. That scooter stuck out in my mind even then, as 2002 was maybe a year or two past the razor-scooter-for-adults fad, and even during the height of the fad I thought it was quite dorky. Now there it was, beside all his other possesions dumped unceremoniously on the curb. There were a couple copies of the book Paul wrote and published. I grabbed one of them, along with a couple other books, and rode home. Goodbye, Paul.

*I have worked on Hawthorne seven out of the twelve years I have lived in Portland.
**I really hate that descriptive term, by the way.
***You may now say, "Oh, how bohemian and Portland you are!" My response is: I got a heck of a lot of travelling done in those years.
****I never really got around to finishing that "manifesto", so don't bother looking for it.


  1. The longer you live the more dead people you know. There's no getting out of it. I join you in your loner-ness, in fact I suspect a lot of people in the Blogsphere may qualify as the weird-smart-chubby etc crew...of late I have considered how alone I am and thought perhaps I should try a little harder, seek human companionship, reach out...

    But as a constant reader and a Blogger and a guy who LOVES long quiet bike rides I am not sure where in my schedule, slack as it is, would I fit in friends. The virtual world is loaded with remote-control friendship, for whatever it is worth, but I wonder if perhaps those relations count. I have one of my readers who visits when he is in the neighborhood and our relation morphed rapidly from aquaintance to blood brothers; but we were pre-loaded as such by common spiritual beliefs and bicycles and rum and beer. There are other readers of my booger that would probably also qualify sooner or later in the same fashion.

    I go too long here, Shawn, but I think your post today deserves more than a glib remark. In fact, it is a subject that has been much on my mind of late. Luckily, no vague acquaintance of mine has passed away by their own hand or that of fate, as happened in your world just now...but it is a thing that could happen anytime.

    Survivor guilt is a natural reaction and I have learned not to indulge myself in it. There's plenty of other stuff to be guilty about that I earned with my own hard work and bad behavior.

    But I get it.


  2. Death seems strange, particularly when it happens to our peers. We ignore it, pretend it does not exist.

    I've never had the misfortune of a close friend dying. But the passing of even a casual acquittance can be hard. A reminder of one's own mortality.

    I liked your post. It's good to examine these things. This Paul guy sounds like he may have been a difficult person to know. But, you know, in the end, it's only family and close friends that matter. It's a cliche, I know, but cliched because it is true. And you can't love or support everyone in the world. But this is a good reminder to love and support the ones that are close to you.


    - Nick

  3. I thought about a reply for a few days. Reply or no reply. My best friend died three years ago. I think about that a lot and of him a lot. It is not a guilt of surviving him but a thought of how would he deal with a certain situation as it happens to me. I hope that the legacy of him as a part of me is that I share with the people that I interact with, now and into the future. I don't have to be everybody's best buddy, but don't be the loner dude either. Accept thoughts,feeling and ideas while sharing your own. That is a good goal to aspire to as my life unfolds.
    Good post Shawn
    Jim Bangs


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