Monday, April 23, 2012

The Haunts of Hazel Hall

NW 22nd Pl looking south

I waited for the sun. If not the the sun, then I waited for the rain to ease up a little. I'd been meaning to visit the poet's house for some days. Weeks. The only real holdup was the rain.

Here in Portland, Oregon, it rains. I walk everywhere I go. This time of year, I walk in the rain. In short, I don't know what the hangup was that made me wait to a break in the weather to walk the few blocks to see Hazel Hall's house at 106 NW 22nd Place.

The cherry tree right outside of our building on the corner of SW Vista Ave and Park was in full bloom yesterday, even if the branches or the flowers themselves were heavy with rain. I zipped up my jacket as I stood under the tree and waited to cross the street. Despite the lack of rain, it was cool enough out for me to see my breath.

Halfway to Burnside I thought of Ryan Lamb. It was an overwhelming thought of Ryan too. The thought really was a reminiscence of a day in May a long time ago. It was a day in May well over half my life ago. We had taken a train from Ansbach to Mannheim. Ryan had been to Mannheim when he was a kid and thought it was well worth the trip for me to see the place. It was a rainy afternoon in Mannheim. That's what I remember most about the trip. There was a bridge there, over the Rhine I think, that Ryan wanted me to see. Walking through the rain on the grid pattern streets of Mannheim we eventually came to the bridge. The sun broke the clouds and light overcame the rain. The bridge was spectacular to see.

Yet, nearing Burnside, there was no real reason for this recollection. I was on my way to see a poet's house, not a bridge. I was alone, and on another wandering mission to see something worth writing about. And here I was thinking about Ryan. I think about him once in a while. He's far away, Switzerland. We spent our youth together. We went to school together, worked together. After graduation we joined the Army together, fought war together and eventually landed up in Germany together. Afterward, we returned home and we lived together all through college. In short, we were together for about ten years. He's been in Europe, Switzerland mostly, since 1998. We haven't seen much of each other since then.

It must have been the feeling in the air. After all, I waited for a break in the weather to venture out of the house and wander the few streets to Hazel Hall's house. I have no other theory about why the feeling of homesickness for my dear old friends and a time we spent together once so long ago would be so overwhelming. I relished in the ghost of it all as I wandered down Vista toward Burnside. This stretch of Vista Avenue means something to me. It must. I concluded my novel Psychotomimetic Peacocks with this walk on Vista toward Burnside.

I looked at the buildings on either side of the street. Over the years, I've know people who lived in various buildings on this walk. Friends who I just could not live without, at least for a time. I looked at windows and recognized them as places where such people, such old friends once called home. Yet, the thought was stilled by the memories of Mannheim with Ryan.

I stalled at the corner. I waited for the light at Burnside to be in my favor. It's a dangerous intersection for pedestrians. It separates the city north and south. On the south west side of Burnside, Vista Ave is Vista Ave, but on the north west side it's 23rd. NW 23rd is a very busy street, especially at 4:00 in the afternoon and during a break in the weather.

Oh, Portland. There is just no word in the English language to describe this place. It's janky and joyful. It's backass and forward thinking. It's hipster and hick. It's meth and iphones. It's dichotomy at it's finest. It's the modern day personified add rain. And I believe there isn't a single person here paying attention. I suppose everyone has larger worries to think about. And all I really wanted to do was to walk to Hazel Hall's house.

The last thought I had in south west Portland was that I just don't seem to get out much any more. Safely across the street and now in north west, I knew the truth about myself. I once got out and did things, I went to coffeehouses, I walked through neighborhoods for the sake of seeing them. I would walk five miles across town to see a bar because someone suggested that I should. I stepped one foot in front of the next and moved over puddle and moss and creases in the sidewalk's cement. I breathed in the air, the sweet Portland air which in one stride smelled of some sort of exotic blossom and in the next breath smelled like dog shit. I used to get out and walk, just like that day in May decades ago with Ryan on a similarly rainy day in Mannheim.

The clouds raced quickly across the sky. Very quickly. It made me love the place again. A half a block later I crossed NW 22nd Pl by Pizza Oasis. It smelled like it should: baking bread and greasy cheese. It had been months, since last summer, since I'd visited my friends inside the pizza joint. Those days are behind me. I liked the afternoon slice of pizza after a good hearty morning gin bender. Funny thing, no gin no more and with it, no pizza, no big macs, no street tacos and no 7-eleven nachos. Yet, looking inside the windows of the pizza place made me a little nostalgic for pepperoni and RC cola.

Where Hazel Hall lived
Ever get the feeling that your life is changing? Do you ever feel like things are a certain way, static, moving and that they are not going to be the same ever again? And then as you're moving along a busy avenue walking in the sunlight, you realize that not only are things okay, but they are getting better now and before they were was somewhere behind okay? And do you ever feel like you're on the right path at this moment and perhaps you were not of the right path just moments ago? Has the light ever felt perfect to you, the quality in the air ideal and the motion of life angelic?

And here's the thought of the day. In May of 1991, while walking the street of Mannheim, Germany, my life was destined to go a very specific way. This specific way was obscured by the rain of the time. All the interceding years mounted to this: during a break in the weather in April of 2012 in Portland, Oregon, I would make sense of life shortly before meeting the haunts of Hazel Hall.

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