Jeff Douglass did a lot of interesting things during his time on this earth. Before moving to Port Townsend in 1979, he’d been married and divorced. He’d spent years working in a tiny cubicle, in a building he said was the largest he’d ever seen, crunching numbers to help build rockets for the space program. He spoke of an unquenchable thirst for cheap coffee, and how his wife at the time needed to douse him in the face with a pitcher of water to wake him up in the morning. The way he described it, it didn’t really seem like operating in a regimented or corporate environment was in keeping with his spirt.
Some people knew him only as the long-haired Gandalf-like figure in thigh-high shorts and a tee, inhabiting various street corners on Tyler or Taylor streets in Port Townsend. Others knew him as a sound engineer with a penchant for AC/DC. It was alleged that in the 70’s and 80’s he could hold down a pool table all night, powered by LSD. To some he was a consistent bar patron with a quiver of witty comments that straddled the line between slightly devilish and potentially innocent, and any manner of places in between.
Jeff loved Mark Twain, and he liked to impart clever Twain-esque comments to his conversational partners.
“I haven’t seen a movie in the theater since 2001.” (the joke being that he hadn’t seen a film in the theater since the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968).
In reference to living in Port Townsend, “I came here to be cool.” The underlying truth was that he moved to PT to get away from the heat and the cold, but also, no one thinks of Port Townsend as a trendy place.
He also liked to claim that after collecting his last paycheck from the army, he never worked another day in his life.
The underlying reality was that even this statement was multifaceted. I think it’d be fair to say that Jeff’s life intention was to avoid spending time doing things he didn’t want to do, but he also didn’t like getting paid for things he did well. Jeff went on to be a flight instructor, and often told me it was the most fun he’d ever had in his life. He moved to Tahoe and spent years skiing, before blowing out his knees. He then became a motocross racer, and again blew out his knee, this time after another rider careened over it and left Jeff using a cane for a year.
Jeff became a recognized ski photographer. His action shots purportedly hung from the ski lodge in Lake Tahoe. Later, he became an aerial photographer and eventually moved to the Northwest to take photos of the Olympic National Forest. In the 90’s Jeff took up painting and recreated some of his favorite photographs, many of which hung around his house for years. Also in the 90’s, he began pursuing music recording and captured sounds from many among Port Townsend’s music community. Often his did this for free or for very little money.
To me, he was a great friend. He would tell me he knew me as a bump in my mother’s belly. He took portraits of me as a toddler. He’d often bring me birthday gifts wrapped in the funny pages of the Seattle Times. I thought this was a clever, creative touch at the time, but now recognize this was an example of his frugalness. When I was 15 he gave me my first guitar, my father’s old Duo Sonic that he had bought before I was born. He’d later spend countless hours recording my first attempts at songwriting, often content (and patient) as I threw heaps of mud against the wall to see what kind of teen angst would stick.
After I moved away from Port Townsend, I made it a point to keep in touch. I remember calling him my freshman year of college – feeling like I’d been consigned to a gulag on the steps of the Palouse hills – and told him that I loved him over the phone. It was awkward, but heartfelt.
For years I’d return to Port Townsend and he’d be the first person I sought out. I knew I could find him at the Farmer’s Market, the corner of Taylor and Lawrence streets or the Uptown Pub. He became a centering, balancing force when city living sent my head spinning. He was there to listen and provide advice after all of the breakups I experienced during the past couple of decades. He liked to tell me, “If I could do it all over again, I’d never live with a woman.” It was less of a commentary on women, and more of a recognition of his own obstructive independent streak. During the past couple of years he’d say, “If I knew then what I knew now, I’d just be a temporary pleasure provider, or a TPP for short.” Meaning that he’d take in wounded birds, nurse them back to health, and let them fly free.
Jeff was a fountain of good insights and a remarkable example of selflessness and kindness. I kinda sorta selfishly always thought he’d be around. Even though he was 40 at the time I was born. I always hoped I could get my act together in Portland so that I could invite him down, give him a comfortable place to stay, and show him the weird life I lead away from the experience we shared in Port Townsend. Sometimes I thought that someday, if I ever had a family, I’d have liked to include him in all of our gatherings, like a beloved uncle. It was a nice thought, but I f***ing blew that one.
He was incredibly kind to me over the years and I’ll miss him forever.