Photo from Streetroots Newspaper
If you have spent any time in Portland and have crossed the Hawthorne Bridge there is a good chance you witnessed the street theatrics of Kirk Reeves. I've been crossing this bridge several times a week for a decade or so and let me tell you, I'm usually in survival mode, trying to get the hell away from everyone else. In winter, I'm wishing it is summer so I'm not piss went when I get home and in summer I wish it is winter so all the fair weather cyclists are out of my fucking away.
I'm not going to lie, like I should, by saying Kirk Reeves made the commute a little easier because he did not. Frankly, he used to irk me. On numerous occasions, I was stuck right next to him on my bike waiting for the bridge to come back down. I'd listen to several bars of Star Wars he'd attempt to blast out his trumpet and it pained my ears. Next came the puppets, who made out, got married and then started pounding on each other and then the rather, crude magical tricks would wound it off along with some terrible comedy. More than once, Kirk referenced me, "Is this guy going smile? No he's not!" And then break into the next piss poor ten-second routine. The bridge would finally reconnect, I'd jam my foot into my toe straps and get the fuck out of there.
Of course everyone now loves and misses him and even knows his name but up until he was found dead, in the wetlands the other day, he was just another mentalist on the streets to most. Inevitably, I have indulged in some self-reflection in response to his suicide. Initially, I thought to myself, I'll miss that lunatic, in his white suit and Mickey Mouse ears, his awful trumpet playing and even sinister smile. Then I came back to reality and thought to myself, no I wont, I found him rather shady, my gut instinct always gave me a red flag concerning this bloke. Now that I know of Kirk's back story I accept that it is rather engaging. He allegedly witnessed a lot of violence and death as a child and young mad, and gave up a job working with computers due to Y2K paranoia, deciding to dedicate his life to 'entertaining' and making people smile but never quite learned the skills to pull it off. Although, and perhaps significantly, my eight year old daughter says I'm wrong about this. He was homeless, off and on, had twenty white suits and took trumpet lessons. Now he's dead, these details are fascinating to the city that just about tolerated him but ultimately it also encouraged him to end it all, as Kirk apparently never felt like he succeeded in his life mission.
Now as I digest it all, I feel I've found the middle ground between compassion and cynicism, by thinking about my older brother in relation to Kirk. In some ways, Richard was the antithesis to Kirk, especially if you did not know him. Scary looking, snarl on his face, not really looking to entertain anyone but a fixture on the street nevertheless. The point is, some people just aren't able to fit into the mold of 'acceptability.' For it is rigid and unforgiving mold and conformity is an unfair struggle for many. It is easier to just write such people off as 'mentally ill.' The more I think about mental illness, the more I realize it is less about the individual's inability to 'fit into society' and more about society's ineptitude to compassionately accept individuals who are cut form a different mold. Perhaps, there are other times in history, cultures, places in the universe where Kirk and my brother would be revered as Shamans or geniuses. Their gifts would not just be tolerated but celebrated. But to those of us, stuck in this 9-5 survival mode, tax paying, consumers, bound by debt, mortgages, jobs, strict family structures and so forth, they just scared and pissed us off. And they knew it. Kirk's last letters to his friends included the words "God hates me." My brother's final communications with the world also alluded to rejection and despondence.
I'd like to dedicate, the Farce EP by Rudimentary Peni to Kirk Reeves and Richard Lewis. Nick Blinko suffered and continues to suffer like they did but is thankfully celebrated for his madness.
If you feel like honoring Kirk, educate yourself on mental health and take a bit of time to learn about his life.
For more on Kirk, here is a short but captivating student documentary.
For more on alternatives ways of viewing Mental Health, check out The Icarus Project