Portland’s Bucket of Blood (or “I’d Rather Be Lonely Tonight”)

The White Eagle


45.51° N, 122.67° W

Howdy, sailor. One wonders how many dusty frontiersmen, cowboys, pioneers arrived west over a century ago and kindly explained to the bartender, sir, I ain’t no sailor. I ain’t ever seen the ocean. The bartender, spit-polishing a mug, would’ve said with a grin, not yet, boy.

There are tunnels beneath these taverns where the unsuspecting sailors-to-be were bedraggledly dragged, pickle-brained & shit-faced, in a state of fugue courtesy of slipped-mickey, taken to the river, to the Willamette, to be tossed like chattel, a commodity of flesh, aboard a merchant vessel and when they woke, if they ever woke, if land was in sight they’d be too miserable to do anything about it. Once their legs were sturdy enough to stand, the oceanic waves would knock them down again, virgin fawns introduced to the sea. Hangover or seasickness or both would have them over the railing, raising the salty waters a cup or two higher with regurgitate. If they were deemed unseaworthy, they’d be tossed overboard and forgotten in a foaming wake of jetsam and sputum. Those who survived long enough to lodge a complaint to the captain would likely never see the captain, only be told, you can swim back if you like. Next stop: Shanghai. 

Which kind of sets the vibe for tonight. Not that I feel Shanghai’d as much as maybe I’ve been baited then switched, much like a cowboy who woke a sailor.

The White Eagle today is a live music venue in Northeast Portland with a tavern downstairs and rooms to rent on the second floor. A hundred years ago, this place was owned by Polish immigrants (the white eagle is emblematic in Poland) and was a tavern where local dock workers would lean against the bar to drink naval-strength rot-gut and piss where they stood. Those were the days when the tavern earned the nickname, “Bucket of Blood”, for the amount of violence erupting within its halls. Upstairs was a brothel where ladies would take-in riverboat captains, lucky panhandlers who found their nugget and anyone else who could win $2 at poker. While the upstairs is, mostly, no longer a den of prostitutes & opium smokers and while the Shanghai tunnels in the basement have been bricked-up, this building, in the industrial dockside region of Northeast Portland, retains a residual dark energy which drifts up your pant leg like a draft of unholy breath, twisting your knee, singeing your thigh, chilling your tailbone, creeping along your spine, slithering between vertebrae, crawling in quick bursts, as an arachnid, alarming the hairs at the back of your neck, until it infects your brain, a dark-spotted potato, a hammer stuck in the cauliflower, a skull over-boiling with soup, a mind full of inescapable dread, damned to being trapped in the present. Trapped here in the White Eagle. Passing dogs whimper and cower. Children go wide-eyed and quietly smile. The drunks, well… we’re entirely oblivious. Except tonight when I arrived late and frightfully sober. 

Is the place haunted? Who am I to say? I get creeped-out by a dollop of mayonnaise left atop a lunch counter. If you were to ask the professionals, the paranormal researchers-for-hire and the self-published authors of ghost stories, they’d tell you the White Eagle is not just the vessel of many maligned spirits, but within this building is a veritable Gateway to Hell. On the second floor, the first two rooms off the stairway were once conjoined via secret passageway. This passageway has since been bricked and turned into counterpart closets in either room, but the vortex of the damned supposedly remains between the rooms. Home may be where you hang your hat, but this particular hell is where you hang your coat. 

When I somberly, soberly, arrive, tonight’s act at the White Eagle, Typhoid Larry, is playing a metal cover of James Taylor’s Mexico. It is terrible, uncanny; it is as if I was setting foot into a reverse-negative parallel universe, only stupider. I find my ghost hunting team immediately upon entering the tavern: they are easy to spot as one large collective stick-in-the-mud. They’re all drinking flat diet-cola fountain drinks from the bar. The president of NOPI, North Oregon Paranormal Investigations, is Glen Fitch, but don’t let his name fool you; he might sound like a scotch whisky, but more closely resembles a nearsighted scotch-egg in a turtleneck. He takes roll, reading off the names of the thirty NOPI members even though it is clear only five of us are present. The lady to my left has an axe to grind, based on her back tattoos of ground axes. Her hair is dyed blue, she has a bull-ring piercing through her central nostril wall and she wears fishnet stockings from her leather skirt to her combat boots. I’m lucky she doesn’t take a cleaver to my liver when she catches me squinting at the tattoo script betwixt her breasts, ignoramus et ignorabimu. She tells me it is latin. So I gather. She introduces herself as Scorpitaria. Her handshake is firm, sweaty, lingering, and my hand is over-shook until I fake a sneeze in order to force separation of grip to catch the fake snot I pretend to project from my head. I pardon myself, sorry, it’s probably Glen’s cologne. Only Tate giggles at my comment. Tate is our technical wonk, he’s got the gizmos and fifty extra pounds of nervous eating. He’s settled for a life of celibacy, but every time Scorpitaria calls Tate “Spuds”, he wonders if love in this life might be possible. And then there is Kerry-Ann, the resident sensitive, as in, she senses shit like cancer in cats and ghosts hiding behind curtains. Kerry-Ann is halfway to spinsterhood, but she’s a certain sensuality about her. She is seductive like a pair of wool socks. Y’know, sometimes you could really go for some thick socks. I took her out for coffee after a NOPI cemetery clean-up. Kerry-Ann described me as a perplexing mashup of conflicting energy. She said it was as though I had walked through a field of deceased flowers and collected all of their pollen. Kerry-Ann liked me and felt comfort and secure in my company, however, the whirlwind of energies around me crippled her emotionally. Okay, I said back then, if you don’t want to grab a pizza after this, just say so. Kerry-Ann nodded and said, so. 

Vic in the Tunnels beneath White Eagle

We’re a ragtag band. We’re less strange than we are lonesome; we’ve all commonly experienced loss. If there is any similarity to those who join these ghost groups, it is the inability to let go while simultaneously reaching for what lies beyond our grasp. 

As Typhoid Larry screams through their James Taylor cover, Oh, down in Mexico, I never really been so I don’t really know!, the team moves upstairs to where we rented one-half of the rooms which allegedly leads to the Gateway to Hell. Once inside Room 2, Glen Fitch mentions the common ghost tropes present here: evil abusive male spirit, the dead hooker with a heart of gold and a bastard boy born here, raised here and quickly dead here at the hands of some tragic pistol misfire. All these spirits are at play, dancing their same steps every night for eternity, revenants on repeat, a mundane hell unto itself. Our purpose tonight, Fitch explains to us in the same mild-manner he teaches finger-painting to middle-schoolers, our purpose is to record any evidence of the supernatural. 

Within the room, there is no sink or toilet, communal bathrooms are further down the hall. We have the lights on and the NOPI investigators go to work. Tate sets-up sound equipment to pick-up low level frequencies, electronic voice phenomenon. We have EMF meters for reading electrical anomalies and infrared cameras mounted to look for temperature changes. I have a low-tech pair of bronze, water-witching, dousing rods. HFS, Scorpitaria says, clocking my rods. Old school as fuck, bruh. Total metal, rock-on, she says. 

First Floor of the Tavern

Glen Fitch and Kerry-Ann are putting Scrabble pieces letter-down on the nightstand after they placed teddy-bears and toys along the bed. Cameras are setup to capture any disturbance in these props. Fitch starts spraying perfume. What’s that, I ask, are you chumming the waters with your cologne. Fitch nicely explains, according to Karl von Kartshausen, effective fumigations for causing apparitions include hemlock, henbane, saffron, aloe, opium, mandrake, salorum, poppy seed, asafetida and parsley. This is my home blend, he says. Potpourri for poltergeists, Scorpitaria says, cute. 

The stage is set. But if we’re going to get the devil to show himself, don’t we need to tie a goat to a post? Glen Fitch says to us, the observer effect in paranormal investigations is profound; supernatural activity requires energy and without an observer, often paranormal events do not occur. I would volunteer to be in the closet, but as the lead investigator I cannot be the subject of investigation. Fortunately, Fitch tells us, Kerry-Ann has volunteered to stay in the closet if Victor is there and Victor has agreed. This is news to Victor, but if K.A. wants me with her as her protector, I’m happy to assist. Except, Kerry-Ann, who looks ill from where she sits on the mattress, is not going into that closet. I am sorry, she says, nearly gagging, but there is so much negative energy coming from that portal, I feel as though the air I am breathing is charred cotton balls. Of course, Glen Fitch says, nodding with understanding. He turns to the next psychic in line, Scorpitaria, who shakes her head, dude, I get claustrophobia. Fitch looks at Tate who says, I have to monitor the equipment. And I have asthma. Glen Fitch again nods with understanding. And so there was one, Scorpitaria says, pointing a painted fingernail at me, this dude. 

Hallway of the White Eagle’s Second Floor

I could say no. I should say no. Had my father not died before I felt I had proven myself to him to not be a coward, I’d feel empowered enough to say no, no, go fuck yourself, hell no. Instead, I say, okay. Glen Fitch grins, well, you are the resident skeptic, he says, so go get skeptical. He’s giddy, in his schoolmarm-smarmy way, almost hoping I get ear-fucked by a diabolical three-dicked monkey with batwings which flies up out of the gateway with eighteen of its brethren. Fifty-four flaming monkey dicks, all-told, I crunch the numbers of what we can speculate of Glen Fitch’s fantasy, eighteen monkeys and their flaming dicks trying to burn their way through my underpants. Yes, I am terrified, but I guess that’s the point. 

I turn away from Glen Fitch to bump fists with Tate. Scorpitaria puts a dry rosebud in my hand. Kerry-Ann hugs me and tells me she probably shouldn’t see me for the next three years if I do manage to come out of the closet alive. I remind her she had a gift-certificate to Cheesecake Factory she was going to spend on me for my birthday and if there is any god, Cheesecake Factory will not exist in three years. She turns away in shame and I realize she has already spent the Cheesecake gift certificate on Glen Fitch… trusty, milquetoast, wet-blanket, Glen-fucking-Fitch, who has booked my ticket and paid my toll for this Gateway to Hell. Good for them. They deserve each other. Someone has to propagate the boring people of tomorrow. Fuck them, let’s go to hell. 

I go through with it. I sit down in the closet, the southern half of the Gateway to Hell. They close the closet door, shutting me into this tight space. They turn out the lights in the hotel room then leave the hotel room entirely. I am in complete, absolute, darkness sitting in the closet. With Typhoid Larry playing underneath us, there is nothing but noise and vibration. I take out my phone and look-up ignoramus et ignorabimu. We do not know and we will not know. Well, shit… if this is what is written on Scorpitaria’s breast, I suppose she’s playing hard to get. I put my phone away. Let’s take this experiment seriously. 

I am disoriented. It is so dark, I can turn my head from left to right, from right to wrong, from up to down to hell and I see no change. All is ink black. The audio equipment is on the shelf above my head, or at least, it was the last time there was enough light for me to find my bearings. Is there a spirit present in this room, I ask aloud. No jokes, I am serious. Is there anyone listening to me? While I am blind, there is plenty of interference in the bass pounding at the floor boards from the live show beneath us. Still, while I might not hear the screeches of the damned or the whistling of the forsaken or any other holy hell hollered up from the depths of despair, the sensitive audio equipment on the shelf above me might pick-up the idle chatter of doomed souls hissing fouls things. 

Is there anyone in here with me, I ask. Any ladies of the night or orphan spirits? They say this is a portal to an evil dimension, but it seems pretty tame to me. The band is mediocre at best, I say, continuing  to ramble to myself out-loud. Step-son metalhead, I’d call it. The beer here sucks. There is too much good beer in Portland for White Eagle to only sell their own shitty beer…

The audio equipment sitting on the shelf above me suddenly tumbles down and crashes atop my head. 

I remain in fetal position for a moment or two after impact before pushing the heavy equipment off of me, wincing at the the possibility of further violence. I open the closet door and crawl out, stumbling through the dark room looking for a light switch. Once the room is lit, I do not turn around. I struggle with opening the door before leaving the room to leap downstairs into the busy tavern, straight to the bar to order a whiskey beer back. I do not look over my shoulder at the upstairs I vacated. Whatever’s up there won’t have to bother with me ever again. 

Typhoid Larry is head-banging to another James Taylor cover, screeching, don’t say yes, but please don’t say no, I don’t want to be lonely tonight! 

The NOPI team is beside themselves when hearing my story. We listen to the recording, but it is hard to hear anything nuanced with the live band playing. When played-back, what you can hear over the din of noise is my voiced criticisms before a commotion as the hardware spontaneously spills. After a beat, my voice comes across the tape, shit… shit. Fuck this, I need a beer.

I finish my drinks and wish them luck. With the company I’ve kept over the last hour, I’d rather be lonely tonight. 

White Eagle and its haunted second floor

  1 comment for “Portland’s Bucket of Blood (or “I’d Rather Be Lonely Tonight”)

  1. Sue
    October 23, 2021 at 2:42 pm

    Great story. Loved the James Taylor twist…


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