13 November 2012

[pdx_legends] Kirk Reeves: The Death of a Showman

2889.Last week, about this time, was when we first heard of it. Rumors, not in the sense of sinister whispers but of simple, unverified information, that someone was no longer with us.

Kirk Reeves has died, the rumors said.

None of us believed it at first; none of us wanted to. The first clue that we personally had, here at Haus ZehnKatzen, that it had been was a post on the book of the face that now appears was a share from this FB channel called 'Portlandism':

I am sad to report that Portland street musician and all around nice guy, Kirk Reeves is no longer with us.

To me, Kirk was a staple in Portland. Waving to motorists as they passed by, as well as interacting with the people on the street, it was hard not to smile around him. Kirk brightened my day on many, many occasions and I am sad he is gone.

I remember gathering with friends and meeting Kirk for sandwiches on Thursdays for a few years, he always had a great story to tell.

Rest easy, Kirk Reeves.

But it was rumor at that point and, as I mentioned above, we didn't really want to believe it. We didn't talk much with Kirk, but we ran in the same circles, and just knowing he was out there, struggling along side of us,  made us feel a little less lonely in the world.

Everyone who'd used the westbound approach to the Hawthorne Bridge from Naito Parkway northbound knew of Kirk. He was The Man in the White Suit, the enigma with the Mickey Mouse ears and the ever-playing horn; the street musician who is evergreen, providing the backdrop you expect in a city the size of Portland, the splash of absurd personality that leaves you smiling for reasons you will never put your finger quite on.

Kirk was a regular at OryCon, the science fiction convention The Wife™ and I have been habituĂ©s of for never-you-mind how long. We must have first run into him about ten years back. In that white tux and that amazing rock-star style and blazing white teeth, he was hard to miss. 

He had a 'con badge, and it read Kirk the Jerk. In later times he would be Working Kirk, but then, he chose to reference an obscure Trekism. The Wife™, who saw Star Trek: The Animated Series, got the joke immediately. On one episode, titled "The Practical Joker", depicts the hilarity that ensues when an alien intelligence infects the Enterprise's computer after the ship passes through a cloud. The ship begins playing practical jokes on the crew, nearly getting them killed by Romulans, and at one time, the ship played a certain goof on our captain:

Comedy gold,  I tell you. Well, at least I laughed 'till I stopped.

Wife and Kirk got into a pretty deep conversation about that episode and from there, a lovely friendly acquaintance was born. We ourselves would go out of our way to use that on-ramp to the Hawthorne Bridge to say 'hi' and occasionally leave a tip. 

There wasn't anyone who didn't like Kirk, from what I remember. He took the name Kirk the Jerk only as a joke, but jerk was the last thing he could ever be mistaken for being. He wanted to entertain. He was always entertaining to be with. He tried various things to try to make his fame; the street performing, the cable access show; we hear he had several unpublished novels, and even tried to get on America's Got Talent. 

His audition did not get him far. Their loss.

He did have a local show, cable access … it was called Low Comedy. He gave us a DVD to watch and we did and … while I did come here to praise him and not to bury him, it was … well, here's a clip found at YouTube. You be the judge:

For those who like this sort of thing, this should be exactly the sort of thing they like, as they say. Didn't fill my can'o'beer; maybe it'll fill yours.

But that was Kirk, to me. He knew what he wanted to do, and he went for it. He was quite good at the horn-playing, maybe not so much at the comedy thing, but consider – he got a lot of people together and they enjoyed it and they enjoyed his company and he, theirs, so in the end, it's all good.

He had no family in Portland, as far as we knew. A search was undertaken by the Portland Police to find any relatives and they did find a sister. But as tragic as the news was that he was no longer amongst us, even worse was the knowledge that he had taken his own life, ended by his own hand, in a corner of Portland so lonely – Bybee Lake, a shallow wetland which is about as far away from being part of Portland as you can be yet still being a part of Portland – was where Kirk chose to end the pain he felt.

While I wasn't infinitely familiar with Kirk (my loss, there) I am intimately familiar with suicide compulsion issues, having known some very passionate people who are very driven, and take failure just as passionately as they do success. It's hard for anyone who's never been driven that far to understand, still so for me, but the pain can get so great that you'll do anything to make it stop. The sad clown is a staple, a cliché; the entertainer who is smiles on the outside yet dying on the inside. It's one that's rooted in soberest truth though.

But still, I'll always remember him for what he gave me. Though I didn't know him well, the truth that he brought stays with me; the courage to be yourself, to strive for what you want to do, to try and, well, heck … maybe you'll get to where you want to go, but you only have the one life, so go balls-out.

And that Kirk didn't find the success he needed to sustain him … well, maybe he was just ahead of his time, is all. Like so very many of us.

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, Woody Allen is quoted as saying, I want to achieve it by not dying. And who can really disagree with that? Kirk didn't get maybe the immortality that he was shootin' for, but he did get it of a sort. Everything on the Internet is forever, as we all know, and on Google Street View, you can see this:

View Larger Map

That's Kirk, takin' a break y'all. Even the greatest have to rest occasionally.

He was a man; take him for all in all. We shall not see his like again.

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