Rose City Haunts (or “nostalgic reflux”)

Posted: December 28, 2013 in paranoid life
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There’s a feeling I get when I look to the West
And my spirit is crying for leaving

– Led Zeppelin, Stairway To Heaven

I used to watch Old Man Neverman gaze endlessly at the horizon, countless cigarettes disintegrating betwixt his digits as he looked, hauntingly, to the West… before he, himself, shuffled-off. Always wondered what he sought within those faraway stares. He was raised in the same stingray-infested tidal pools reflecting the sunset off the sea as I was to be. I too would become transfixed with the West and in return, it has been the western coasts where the strangest paranormal shit has always transpired for yours truly. My most chilling ghost stories – chilling not for their malevolence, but, rather, the sheer proximity of weirdness to the host body of this narration – occurred during trips of mine to Western Ireland and Southern California. It was later, during my years in Oregon when my curiosity for investigating the “after-this” culminated into a salivating fury of belligerent pursuit for unobtainable knowledge of what waits beyond, ever so patiently, the threshold of Death’s door (where all are welcome). Which is where we arrive, presently, to the retelling of my spooky nights in the Rose City, Portland.

Ginger Hustle, master of using leverage in his persuasive arguments

Ginger Hustle, master of using leverage in his persuasive arguments

I wore two pairs of socks during those Portland days: the inner pair to keep the vital heat within, the outer pair to keep the dank cold without.  Nevertheless, nevermore, the chilling dampness of the Oregon atmosphere had seeped into my skin, cooling my bones and mildewing my mind. I can see now (with hindsight thawed by current tropical confines) I was a bit of an odd duck back then, clad in ninja pajamas with a hooded sweatshirt hiding my features as I scaled and descended countless stairs: from the basement study to the first floor gastronomic laboratory and upward still to the second floor where I would flush the byproduct of whichever caffeinated alchemy was coursing through my nervous system. I spent most of my woken hours in hermetic transit upon the ancient stairs of that East Portland monastery that was my home. My roommate, Ginger-Hustle, had long since surrendered all attempts to acclimate me to Northwestern society and had settled for observing me in my transits from behind his cynical, horn-rimmed spectacles as he hypothesized which century my mind resided in. Certainly, it was during those days my conscious thought was occupied with the earlier half of the last millennium. I was thigh-deep in historical tombs, wading towards my own understanding of the 4th Crusade (which I strove to become the contemporary authority of), absorbing the non-fiction literature and plotting out the trips I would eventually make to Constantinople, Zadar and Venice.

When I did break from my hermetic intellectual pursuits, I busied myself as a hobbyist ghost-hunter.

I joined NOPI on a whim and within half a year I had unintentionally wrested control of the organization out of the hands of the superstitious and into my skeptical mitts. NOPI stood for “North Oregon Paranormal Investigations”, though Ginger-Hustle insisted it was better described as “Nerds Other Portlanders Ignore.” It was hard to argue with his logic. In a city populated with a motley crew of elsewhere’s fringe, the nerd quotient was already high in Portland. NOPI out-dorked them all and I would be their prince of fools, duke of the daft, champion of the otherwise untouchables.

Lone Fir Cemetery - the Masonic Tombstone between the trees

Lone Fir Cemetery – the Masonic Tombstone between the trees

It was a career that began innocently enough. Me in my Floridian flip-flops, I would casually observe the goings-on while amongst the seasoned ghost-mongers with their hi-tech gizmos and psychic intuition as we gathered at pioneer cemeteries by what little light of day Oregonian skies allowed. What could not be anticipated was the impact my presence had on said goings-on. I was the resident skeptic, yet the weirdest shit always seemed to happen when I was around. At my favorite spot in my favorite cemetery, where four ancient douglas firs border a single masonic grave, my camera and cell phone shut-down like a burned-out toaster at Fukishima. At an overnight investigation of a former poorhouse/asylum, it was my dowsing rods that flung themselves cross-eyed from within the former children’s ward. I was developing a reputation as a spook magnet (aye, familiar tale). It wouldn’t be long before the self-described “psychics” all sought me out as their preferred investigative partner (we worked in twos, you see, one scientist per intuitive). I was, as one haunted historian termed it, a “lightening rod for psychic activity”. I wasn’t seeing dead people, mind you. I saw little with my nearsighted-empathy. The coincidence seemed to be my presence – I was the rabbit’s foot of weird fucking luck.

Swamp of Sadness - the danger of belief

Swamp of Sadness – the danger of belief

Seasoned as heavily as you would freezer-burnt leftovers, I became a veteran of the group and gained a certain confidence amongst these ghost-mongers. I was still the resident skeptic and was able to explain the strange anecdotes with an imaginative reasoning. Firstly, ghost stories can haunt the human psyche with or without evidence of anything paranormal. The imagination is like the Neverending Story’s “swamp of sadness”, as soon as you belief in something you are sunk up to your neck in shit. Secondly, I am a humanist. I believe we, as a species, are capable of some crazy-arsed shit. I believe in the possibility of telekinesis, especially in moments of profound stress. There is no “Poltergeist”, merely some really stressed out dude (or pubescent teen girl, more likely). The way I could go on being a skeptic while enduring the high strangeness around me was by explaining my own anxious mind was the catalyst for absurd occurrences. By shaving with Occam’s razor, I chose the more believable path at the paranormal fork in the road.

chilling Masonic grave with "orb" activity just before the camera shutdown

chilling Masonic grave with “orb” activity just before the camera shutdown

A skeptical & wizened ninja-pajama’d monk, I was still allured by the sense of something grander existing in the cosmos around me. On rarest occasion, I would find myself a lovely young accomplice to help test my thesis. She would have to have the moxie – the sheer nerve – to accompany me into one of the city’s ancient cemeteries at the witching hour after whichever bar I met her in closed (2am, 3am, 4…). She, my accomplice, and I would then have to sneak into the cemetery either by climbing a jagged-toothed fence or burrowing beneath a gate. I would then take her hand and lead her through the necropolis to my favorite spots, like the four firs around the masonic grave. My actions were, of course, foolish. Homeless vagrants, drug addicts and/or Illuminati occultists could all be sacrificing virgins or feral cats in the next alcove beyond our sight. I was aware of such presences and yet I felt somewhat invincible. It was an outlandish courage afflicted by a strange concoction of aged tequila, crafted draft beer and pure testosterone in my blood, true… But there was something more to my brazen stupor: faith in the environment. I was not a trespasser on such hallowed ground, I was a frequent visitor. My footfalls were well known. My skepticism was supplanted by a superstitious confidence I felt amongst the tombs of ancestors who would respond to my respect with some sort of otherworldly protection. It was of course nonsense, all of it! Or so it seems now, far east in these warm tropical climes, as I think back to then. To be there, to be then, with whichever skirt had the nerve to accompany me at such a diabolical predawn hour, I felt a halo of protection. As luck, or otherworldly matters, would have it, ne’er did a threat emerge from the shadows. I mean, other than my drunken unrequited love for the accompanying skirt at hand…

The White Eagle Saloon

The White Eagle Saloon

My reputation as renowned ghost-herd was solidified during an overnight investigation in the Northeastern Quadrant of Portland at a tavern called The White Eagle. The bar had notoriety beyond the ghostly oddities frequently described in paranormal texts, it had a true history. In the early 1900s, Portland was a port-town. Shanghai tunnels existed on either side of the Willamette River (which separated east & west Portland) where intoxicated menfolk would be abducted and loaded aboard a ship set abroad. This particular tavern was no different and was known within the Polish immigrant community as “the bucket of blood” for its trials and tribulations. I personally explored the basement where the Shanghai tunnels had been long-since blocked off. The ground floor was a bar and soundstage where bands would play nightly. The second story was the hotel with rooms furnished out of a latter day brothel. Between two such rooms existed a connecting closet that was known to modern psychics as “a gateway to Hell.” If you peruse Ghost literature of Portland, you will undoubtedly come across the legend of these closets where you can slide the fire-pole down to damnation. Countless mediums have claimed grandiose evil lies in these passageways. In short, it was the kind of place you (as a reasonable-minded individual) would choose to avoid. It was also the kind of place Vic Neverman and his crack squad of ghost-chasing troops would decide to camp out overnight.

PDX White EagleCutting to the chase, as it is the chase I aim to cut to, our hotel room had access to one of the diabolical access points to hell. It was decided to turn out the lights in the room, for 75% of our team to descend to the bar below to drink beer and listen to the live band while the leftover 25% remained in the closet of the dark room which was the aforementioned “gateway” with a heavy helping of audio equipment kept on the high shelf of the closet. As there were only four of us, I embodied the entire 25% that was to be left behind.

It should be know I was considered “old-school” amongst my elder ghost-herders. While they had state-of-the-art audio/video equipment, I was the young dude with the dowsing rods and an uncanny sense of deductive logic. Before they left the hotel room and went downstairs, my team saw that I was comfortably tucked away in the closet of doom with the audio player recording on the shelf above before shutting the door and turning off all illumination within the hotel room. Please recall what I mentioned earlier about high-stress situations and the “poltergeistic” affect. I was in a pit of darkness with an immediate door, outside of which was another pit of darkness with another door. Just two doors away from the hallway to the stairwell to the bar, sure, but that provided little comfort when my ass was plump-down on a portal to Hell.

Hallway upstairs in the White Eagle

Hallway upstairs in the White Eagle

Alone in the darkness, I bantered to no end in a stream-of-conscious confession to the audio equipment, which was to be played back later to see if there were any responses from “beyond”. I battered around drivel about my skepticism on the local spirits, about my criticism for the home-brewed beer (served downstairs), about whichever obscurity crossed my mind. As I sat, in a fetal-ish position, blabbering beer snobbery, the state-of-the-art audio equipment overhead decided ever-so-suddenly to leap off of the closet shelf and plummet ever-so-rapidly upon the crown of my head. When you are immobile in a closet and the heavens begin to fall upon you, as if some diabolical minion smacked the equipment off of the shelf, you might be prone to startle. If you could hear the audio (owned by other team members) of the event in the closet, you would hear a whole horde of cataclysmic crashing and then a long pause… before I remember how to brief and mention, “Holy shit, I need a beer.”

I broke out of that closet, bounded across the bed to the light-switch that had barely been turned on before I was out the door and down the stairs into the bar below.

I’ve had creepier occurrences around the globe (notably Ireland and California), but this was the only time I had been assaulted by fallen inanimate material. Of course, I can rationalize the event as occurring because either: 1) the band playing in the bar below had so much bass it steadily moved the audio equipment closer to a tipping point, or 2) my anxious psyche willed the audio equipment to go airborne via telekinetic fucked-upped-ness. Those two explanations make a lot more sense than what the psychics had to say: I had been attacked by a hand from Hades who did not approve of my existence within the gateway and/or my criticism of the house brew.

This December is the fifth anniversary of my night at the White Eagle and I am still uncertain what occurred there. Living, now, in the jungles of central Florida where everything is temporary (especially the limestone foundation beneath our feet), chasing the eternal does not grip me as it once did. There seems to be little time to ponder the beyond when obsessed with the imbalance of the present. I’ve started looking East now, where day begins rather than closes. Over my shoulder, though, there exists the macabre curiosity over what hell happened back in the Rose City.

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