third in a series

Started 23 May 2000 12:47am
Eugene, Oregon
Finished 6 June 2000 4:30pm
Boise, Idaho

Leaving Boise last Friday felt a lot like performing root canal on yourself. Or so I imagine. I had forgotten not just how good falling in love can feel, but how good being in love can feel. For the first time in seemingly forever I was living in the moment and living in myself. Usually I need one of those wind-up leashes for my brain so I can pull it back from the eight million places and times it seems to visit every moment, to keep it from plunging over an emotional cliff that’s well-marked on the map but lacks a safety railing. But not last week. I simply was. That’s it. Nothing after the fact of being. So that’s a third thing I had forgotten: how good just living can feel.

But for reasons if you don’t know, I can’t tell you, my time in Boise was for now just a vacation to sanity. (I’ve applied for a visa, a green card, anything to stay, but the paperwork takes years.) The point of this trip was to find a place to live for a while that’s not quite as expensive and noisy and distracting as my place in Los Angeles. I’d done some research and asking about and so forth, and I was looking for something in the west, preferably near the coast. I wanted someplace smallish, but large enough to have one each of most of the chain things I’ve come to be used to in life. (Only Target sells my toothpaste west of the Mississippi, it seems, and I’ve been using the same toothpaste since I was four. Yes, I can change. But I don’t want to. Twenty-four years with the same oral care product and well, everything else tastes REALLY wrong. So I want a town with a Target.) I wanted someplace pretty inexpensive, so there was a chance I could live within the little tiny bit of income I get from a real estate sale and the occasional published photograph of mine. I wanted someplace with some sense of the arts and movies, but it doesn’t need to be a stop on every national act’s tour. A college town would be nifty. And it would be nice if it was sort of near a big city for those days I just needed a big city.

All this led me to check out Eugene, Oregon.


Actually, from Boise, old US Highway 20 leads me to Eugene, at least for this trip. Eight hours across a whole lot of nothing; a desert that reminds me a bit of west Texas but with more scrub brush and less of what might be called “desolation grandeur” – there is just so MUCH nothing in west Texas that it’s actually pretty impressive. While I wasn’t happy to be leaving Boise, not one damn bit, I think the nature of this particular desert wasn’t doing me much good either.

Some of the small nothing towns I was going through made me think about Kermit, not the frog but the small Texas town my father grew up in, and I wondered for a while if I was looking at smallish towns in an effort to try and understand a bit more where my father came from, now that it’s too late to ask him. If that’s true, then maybe I need to go to Kermit and not somewhere else. But Kermit’s not the same; today, it’s a dying old oil town of about 6000. Fifty years ago, it was a booming oil town of 30,000, and Grandma taught half the town’s children art and Grandpa fixed people’s Chryslers. They’d meet at the Dairy Queen after work for dinner. I got all this from a visit there; not a lot of folks get out of Kermit and it seemed like half the adults I met still remembered taking high school art from my grandmother and running into my grandparents at the DQ. But nobody remembered my dad much; he was quiet and a bit of a loner and spent a lot of time out at the sand dunes east of town. One can sort of draw a line from that sketch to his practicing gas and oil law in New York City thirty years later, wearing cowboy boots to close multi-billion dollar merger deals, and to his later love, writing about western music. But the line goes through a lot of fog, and there’s nobody to ask what’s out there. I wouldn’t find answers in Kermit no longer how long I stayed. I wouldn’t find answers in this Oregon desert, nor at any really small town anywhere. Besides, it’s 85 miles from Kermit to a movie theater, and there’s no way to get my toothpaste.

I’m third in a series (Otto C. Kitsinger III, and if you don’t know what the “C” stands for, I’m not telling you) there’s lots I don’t know about parts one and two, and if I ever find answers, it won’t be today. But the small nothing towns that dot US 20 made me wonder: was I considering this move to seek answers I wouldn’t find?

A gas station attendant in Bend brought my mind back in to join my body for a while. You’re not allowed to pump your own gas in Oregon, which is weird but after a while I’m glad to not have gasoline smell on my hands, and it frequently leads to interesting conversations with the employees for which it is legal to pump gas. I’ve learned that telling folks I’m a writer is a bad idea, and I do make some bucks at that whole photography thing, so that’s my answer to the “what do you do” question. The attendant had aspirations to be a professional photographer, and while he was impressed I’ve got a photo in a hardback book by a musician he’d heard of, he wanted to assure me the key to more sales was getting a really long lens. I admitted I was in fact drooling over a 28-200 f2.8 I can’t afford, which is more fast than long, and he said having a goal is good. He’s trying to get a long lens himself so he can sell posters of girls in bikinis on snowmobiles. I bet he’s gonna make a hell of a lot more money than I ever will. I told him having a goal is good and headed up into the mountains.

High in the Cascades you turn off US 20 onto Oregon 126 and drop down through some of the best trees and river canyons I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. Eugene itself is super-green, and I hadn’t quite realized just how tired of palm trees I was. I’ve lived a lot of places but I mostly tell folks I grew up in Maryland, which is accurate enough for most purposes, and Eugene feels as green or greener. With better mountains and river canyons and somewhere to buy my toothpaste and just an hour from a visually impressive rocky coastline and two hours from a big city. The place seemed full of possibility and I didn’t care if I was looking for impossible answers; I just wanna live near all these trees! This would be far more than my third home, but it would be a third phase: growing up, Los Angeles, and now…. what? Perhaps here. Whether or not it’ll feel like home, I can’t tell you. Not yet.


This was published on 06 Jun 2000.
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