Kurt Eisenlohr – Part 2

by Horror Sleaze Trash on September 23, 2011


Another thing that wasn’t funny was taking the train from North Portland to downtown every day. And then, once I got there, having to wait for a bus to take me to John’s Landing, where I work in a fish house, tending bar. It took me an hour and a half, with the layover and all the waiting. The busses never ran on time. They were either early or way late. The trains would break down, or there’d be a car stuck on the tracks and some drunk person behind the wheel screaming, “Oh shit!” so you’d miss your connection downtown.

You’d be stuck there waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

I would see some funny shit. Annoying shit, too, like people talking non-stop on their cell phones REALLY LOUD about horrific personal stuff, or just plain boring stuff, or people begging change and everybody pretending they didn’t exist, the way the scrolling ads and surveillance cameras everywhere didn’t exist.

I’d pretend, too, most of the time.

There was a lot not to see out there.

It’s worse now.

But some of it was laugh-out-loud, still is.

Middle-aged people in florescent superhero tights, on their bikes—they’re way up the list—tourists waiting in long lines for donuts, Greenpeace people shoving clipboards at you, Save the Children people, Animal Rights people.

And everywhere, people taking pictures of themselves, posting who, what and where, and clicking “I like this.”

There was this one guy I would see all the time on the bus mall. He looked pretty normal from distance: blue jeans and a tucked-in, white collared work shirt, belt cinched tight, kind of skinny, a clipboard in his hand. Always that same outfit, always with a clipboard and a pen—many pens. I figured he was working for the city, for Tri-Met or DEQ or something, maybe a planning committee, a livability study of this one particular spot downtown. He’d be crouched there on the sidewalk every day, writing shit down, all intent and focused, just writing away, recording information, very serious about it, like it was life or death, this thing he was doing. Important business, so important you wouldn’t know anything about it, being a civilian and whatnot. You’d have no idea. La la la, move along you clueless private sector people…

And you just figured he was working.

But when you got up close, when you passed him and looked over his shoulder, you could see he had pages and pages of numbers written down, on his clipboard, and in yellow legal pads spread out in small piles all around him—IMPORTANT BUSINESS PAPERS—and the handwriting was all wrong somehow, really strangled and strange. Then you noticed his face, all the worry-lines there, and you noticed his hair, matted and shot through with gray, pasted to his forehead like fingers, with his hands trembling above the clipboard, and how frantic he was not to miss anything.

I made a point of peeking over his shoulder every day.

I finally figured out it was the busses he was recording—arrival and departure times for all the busses, trains, streetcars.

That’s what those numbers were: lines, times…

One day I saw him look really quickly into the sky, then back to earth so he wouldn’t miss any busses or trains arriving or departing or just zooming by not even bothering to pick people up—and there was a plane up there, way up there, real tiny, with a white tail trailing behind it, and two buses rolling towards us, and a train on the way.

And I thought: “Don’t.”

And I thought: “You poor bastard, what have your demons done to you?”

Then I stepped around him, the way you step around broken glass or someone with facial tattoos.

I don’t know, though. About anything, really.

I have long hair and I wear what some would consider semi-ridiculous clothes. You know: skinny jeans—blue or black or gray—and black t-shirts, dress shirts with big collars, hats, a studded brown leather wrist band, Beatle boots…that kind of thing.

I’ve looked this way since I was 17.

But I’m an old guy now. And people think, “Well, he must be a band guy. What else could he be, walking around looking like that at his age? What kind of job could he have?”

Portland is full of musicians. There are a thousand bands here—no exaggeration—and some famous ones, too. So I’m not unusual-looking at all, aside from the fact that I don’t have tattoos, because I’m not from that generation. My generation had band tees and shaggy hair, trucker wallets, Kiss. And besides, almost everyone here is covered with tattoos, even people who work in offices and cubicles or at the bank, because this is Portland and Portland is like that: full of circus freaks.

It’s almost the norm.

So even if I had tattoos crawling up my neck, what would that say about me?

They say Portland is weird and that we should keep it that way, but it’s about as weird as a loaf of Wonder Bread, which is kind of weird, I guess, because what the hell is Wonder Bread anyway? It’s white, for one thing, and stripped of all nutritional value.

It isn’t even bread. It’s just filler, just…nothing.

And most of those musicians do the same thing I do for a living: They tend bar, they wait tables, they stand in doorways checking IDs.

But people always think I’m a Band Guy.

Maybe it’s because a lot of my friends are, and I’m always walking into clubs without paying, and walking down the street without my glasses on and not seeing people’s faces too clearly, or not waving hello when they wave hello or whatever, and they think I’m arrogant and aloof when really I’m just half-blind and vain, because I hate wearing my glasses. They hurt my nose and the spot behind my ears.

I’m a little precious, too. I mean, look at my pointy shoes with the buckles.

“Are you wearing a blouse, dude?”

“And what’s up with the cowboy shirt and the fringed vest, Roger Daltry?”

So, yeah, I get it.

But I’m almost serious: Everybody looks like they’re in a band here—except for a lot of the people actually in bands. They look more like lit majors, mechanics, or zine journalists. My point is, just by looking at them, you can’t really tell what the hell a lot of people are anymore.

A strange girl once said to me: “Maybe you’re a vampire, and this fire escape is a perch, and this loft you live in is your lair.”

“You’re saying I hide from people.”

“I’m saying maybe you’re a vampire.”

The girl watched a lot of TV. And she was a little too fascinated by the giant neon cross that hangs in the sky after the moon comes up over my fire escape.

The cross sits atop a church up the road, almost invisible during the day, and the name on the sign out front reads: God’s International Church of the Sovereign Individual.

Which really does sound like something you’d see on TV.

It takes an alien to get that channel.

She even looked like one.

Remember rabbit ears? She had a pair of those.

“It’s a crow’s nest,” I told her.

“Ship in a bottle,” she said.

So listen.

I was with my ex-wife in a Hollywood Video one day. She lives down in NW Portland, just off Burnside. I used to like to drink in a certain dark bar there that had pictures of bulls and matadors everywhere, and we ran into each other on the street—in sunlight, no less. I hadn’t seen her in ages and we were kind of catching up. She was looking for a movie to watch later that night—by herself I assumed—and I imagined her lonely, because she has this little flipper arm, like a baby’s arm, and it spooks a lot of guys, but it never spooked me. In fact, I didn’t even notice until the morning after we first slept together, which was the night we met. So we went into the video store. I told her that she should meet my girlfriend, meaning Face, because we had just moved in together and I had just started calling her that, and my ex-wife said that would be great, and how that kind of thing was healthy—important, even. And right when she said that, this crazy-looking young Goth girl walked up—all sunken eyes and pale and obese, but kind of cute and blushing—and she said, “Hey, I don’t mean to bother you, but weren’t you in a band back in the ‘80s?” And my ex-wife busted out laughing. She laughed so hard she knocked a huge display of movies over—fell right into it—and it was that movie, The Truman Show. So the video kid came over and we kind of slinked away, feeling like fuck ups, with Goth girl trailing behind and my ex-wife still laughing. The Goth girl’s ears turned red and she told me her name is a city in France and I am “that guy” and I was in “that metal band,” and what was my name? I felt like an ass, because I didn’t look like a guy from an ‘80s metal band at all. Maybe a ‘70s band, or a ‘60s band—rock or new mod or something, maybe really early metal, before metal was called metal, or early punk, like the Stooges maybe—but a guy from an ‘80s band? No way! I didn’t have big hair, for one thing (long, yes; black, yes), nor did I wear spandex or make-up or any of that.

So I just said, “No, you got the wrong guy.”

My ex-wife kept shrieking with laughter, like it was the funniest thing EVER.

Then I started to feel really awkward, because the Goth girl was looking at me and her eyes were full of tears. She kept looking at me, and then looking at my ex-wife who just kept LAUGHING AND LAUGHING AND LAUGHING—back and forth like that—and then the Goth girl started CRYING—really crying, I mean SOBBING—her eyeliner running and make up getting all fucked up and ugly…

My ex-wife stopped laughing. Then she was HUGGING the Goth girl, trying to comfort her. I was just standing there, mortified, feeling like a criminal even though I hadn’t done anything wrong.

My ex-wife was giving me this look that said: Why don’t you DO something about this?

So I said to the Goth girl, “Hey, she’s not laughing at you. She’s laughing at me.”

She looked even more embarrassed and confused, so I said, “Where did you get those shoes? They’re cool.”

And Goth girl smiled this tiny smile.

“I dig your hair, too,” I said.

And now she was REALLY smiling. She dug into her purse, pulled out a pen and a scrap of paper, wrote down her phone number, handed it to me. “Here you go, ‘80s goth metal guy,” she said. “Call me and we’ll fuck! I’ll let you do whatever you want!”

My ex-wife didn’t laugh this time.

She held it in until we got outside, and then she let it rip: AHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

But I didn’t think it was funny.

I remembered how she had told me one morning, back when we were still married, “We need to talk,” then told me she was leaving. And how she did that, and how hurt and messed up I was for years afterward; how I dyed my hair black and started drinking more, and doing drugs, and sleeping with women whose names I couldn’t remember, or sometimes could but only when they had fake dancer names and track marks, and how every time someone laughed when I was walking down the street, or in the grocery store, or at work or anywhere, really—well, I was pretty sure they were laughing at me, even though I couldn’t see them sometimes, and had no idea where the laughter was coming from.

I’m pretty sure I still have Goth Girl’s number.

I think I hid it under a mess of papers in a drawer in my desk, for posterity.

I’ve had a cell phone for 13 months now. Before that, I had a land-line, but I was rarely home, and when I was, I was out on my fire escape, or sleeping, or ignoring the phone ringing.

I would let the answering machine get it.

I wouldn’t check my messages for days, weeks sometimes, so almost every message was moot, past-tense.

“Hey, buddy, we’re at East End. Get your ass down here!”

“Yo, I’m in front of your building. Buzz me up!”

“Hi, sweetie, I’m going to be working late tonight. You should meet me here when we close. We’ll have some drinks and go home and watch Big Love.”

“Hi, honey, it’s just your mom. Your uncle Jim died last week. The funeral was yesterday. Happy birthday! Love you!”

I felt pretty powerless, not having a cell phone. Face was always harping on me about it, but I kept putting off getting one. I hate cell phones.

The way people are constantly clutching them, checking messages, texting, talking to you, then to some other person, texting, reading text, picking up the conversation again…always in two places at once, or in another place altogether. But never where they are, or really with whomever they’re with. I’m here, but I’m also there—in this other place, with these other people.

I saw people when I saw them.

I was always out, and I’d run into them, and that’s when we’d talk, do things, drink. I’d do many things. But even so, even though I was always out, it was hit or miss. I’d miss things. Lots of things. I kept missing people, connections, events, gatherings…even when we had made plans, because plans change quickly when everybody has a phone in their pocket.

“Dude, you missed it! We went over to the Odditorium, Zia got naked and everyone sang.”

“Yo, I bet you feel like shit today. Do you remember losing that girl’s contact in your eye socket last night?”

“Hey, don’t bother coming in to work tonight. I know I said I couldn’t cover your shift, but now I can and I really need the money, so go see that show.”

“Hello, this is Providence Medical. If we don’t hear back from you today, we’ll go ahead and cancel your…”

“Hey moron, where are you? Actor Tom fucking Pell is here! We’re in the green room at Dante’s. JD hooked him up with an 8 ball and he’s not sharing. It’s freaky! I’ve never seen anything like it!”

“Hi, honey, it’s just your mom again. Your brother’s in Portland; he just got off the plane. He’s lost and he’s looking for you.”

And I’d be at a bar a block away, by myself, smoking, hiding in public, so good at it now that I was almost invisible, sipping whiskey and reading the newspaper while all this stuff was happening. So many things happening, happening, happening…

And if I wasn’t in a bar, I was on the fire escape.

Rain or shine, wind, snow, I was one with the elements.

I was a compound.

Smoke, that’s what I was.

And it went on like that, years and years…just like that.

Then they banned smoking in bars and I spent even more time on the fire escape.

One day I went to the bar where my girlfriend worked.

I stopped in on a whim, unannounced, had a coffee and a sandwich, and I said, “Hey, Face, can I use your phone for a sec? I need to call my brother.”

I didn’t have my own at the time.

Face said, “Sure,” and handed me her phone. I had bought it for her for Christmas or her birthday or something. She’d really wanted one, and I didn’t want one, so what the hell. I stepped outside and as I was touching the screen—tap tap tap—dialing my brother, a text popped up: Hi babe. I missed the 14 bus and I’m running late. Can’t wait to see you. Love, _____.

And my heart fell from the sky.

I went back inside, gave her the phone and said, “Thank you, Face.”

And I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t NOT say it, couldn’t NOT ask…

“So, what are you doing when you get off tonight?”

“Oh, I’m just gonna have a drink here with Rose and then go home, I think.”

I could feel the anger tearing through me, right behind the hurt, like my heart had become a hand grenade, but I knew I’d had it coming. It was exactly what I’d been asking for, even if I hadn’t known it until the moment I saw that text.

I left and caught a bus to work.

When I got home, she wasn’t there.

I broke some things I couldn’t fix, and some I could.

All at once, I wanted to be closer to her. So close that when I looked into the mirror, I saw three faces.

The next day, I was looking at people’s cell phones almost frantically, wondering which one to buy. I didn’t know where to begin. I went to a phone store and the sales guy said, “This is what you need.”

So I have one now, and I sort of hate it and sort of don’t.

I called Face at work…

“Oh, good, you got a phone,” she said.

Then she asked what kind of bread I wanted.

I heard someone say, “What are my choices?”

“Sourdough, whole wheat, or rye,” she said. “What color are my eyes?”

She was talking to me.

Soon after I began living with Face, and soon after my run-in with Goth Girl, I cut off all my hair and an almost perfect thing happened–if perfect means surprising, and surprising means you cough your guts up over it.

I was standing dead drunk in front of our building one night, fumbling like a monkey for my keys, dropping them, getting down on my hands and knees, feeling around, getting up, falling…

So I lay there for a minute on the sidewalk.

Just a minute, that was the plan.

And the Honey Bucket Hooker marched by, bursting from her spandex,

and said, “Oh shit, Samson, you cut off all your hair! You still ain’t figured it out yet? You lost all your superpowers!”


I laughed like a lunatic, at that.

I got up and had to squint to see our names on the mailbox. I kept reaching, trying to press the intercom button on the gate.

It took a long time.

The Honey Bucket Hooker kept laughing.

It made a sound up there, where my girl was, then another sound, down where I was.

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