Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Haunted Spokane

This morning I watched the PBS Frontline program "A Hidden Life". I found myself feeling haunted. It wasn't so much haunted by Jim West, but by other things. I think I'll try to blog this out over the next few weeks.

The first thing that comes to mind has to do with the gay underground of Spokane in the late '70's and early 80's. I had two students at Whitworth in 1978 who were gay, one closeted, the other not. The not closeted gay student wrote in his journal about going to a gay ball at the Hilton and about the more outrageous elements of gay/queen life. The other student was preparing to go to seminary. He was his dorm's chaplain. He was conducting himself as a godly kid by light of day, but in his secret life he was having sex with men in drive-in parking lots other places and was writing about these encounters in some detail in a journal for his Freshman Composition class. It was aggressive writing. He wrote entries assaultively, to shock me. The secrecy and repressed nature of it made it feel like ghosts were living in the hidden regions beneath his public personna. I kept his revelations in confidence. I had promised the writing class they could trust me.

When I returned to Whitworth in 1982, I made friends with man working at the college who I would later figure out had a secret life cruising downtown Spokane for young men. It probably cost him his life. In June of 1984, having moved back to Eugene, I got a call from Spokane telling me that my friend had been found in a pool of blood near the Monroe Street bridge. He was still alive, but badly injured, and in a coma from the concussive impact of his head striking the street. He died several weeks later.

It had been rumored that my friend cruised for young men downtown. On the night of the accident, he had been at The Swamp, a tavern on West Fifth. No one seemed sure when they saw him leave, but he did and somehow he ended up either being pushed out of a vehicle or he jumped out of it, to his eventual death. No one ever came forward. My friend's widow did not push the police to investigate more fully.

Something mean happened that night. The one time I was in the Swamp it was a mean place. The journal entries my student wrote were mean. Something about Jim West and his manner was mean. Spokane has a mean streak.

I love Spokane. Emotionally, it's like the Silver Valley to me. Both places feel like home. In Spokane, I used to feel especially at home at the Wall Street Cafe and Ferguson's and at the Knight Diner when it was on Division and at the Viking Tavern when it was on Washington.

I felt at home in the old Jack and Dan's, pre-John Stockton and I felt at home one night with my dad and two of my friends playing pong and drinking Budweiser at Audie's in Hilyard after watching the Bears and the Seahawks play exhibition football at Joe Albi Stadium.

Alongside my affection for Spokane and the Silver Valley is my knowledge of ghosts. I'll write more about these ghosts as time goes along. They were crying out during "A Hidden Life" as I watched it. They call to me when I watch "You Are My Sunshine", a videotape of interviews with survivors of the Sunshine Mine. I'll never go to the Swamp again. Too many ghosts.

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