Ebb Nelson, 41, at Tin Pan Theater

I met Ebb very early in my time here in Bend as we both frequent Lone Pine Coffee Roasters. His laugh is rapturous and his spirit warm and friendly. He is one of the first people I talked with about this project and became an early champion. He shared his story with me, which was so moving I thought he should be the project debut. 

Who are you?

My name is Ebb Nelson. I'm a dude, (laughs) living in Bend. I was born in Los Angeles. I wouldn't say I'm necessarily just from Los Angeles. I moved around a lot as a kid, so it's hard for me to say I'm just from one place. Mostly I'm from Los Angeles. 

What brought you to Bend?

 I'm from a family that’s… quite interesting. I have a father who, what's the best way to put it? I like to tell people that he's a prolific sperm donor. And that he doesn't like doing that in one specific place. Over his existence he sired eight children and I'm in the middle of that bunch. 

Growing up, I always knew I had brothers and sisters and once I got to be ten, eleven, twelve, I started meeting them. As time went on I felt that one of the things I wanted to do with my life was meet all of my brothers and sisters. I wasn't sure if I'd like them or that we would get along. Just thought, well, if I'm related to them it would be nice to meet them. 

In 2008, when shit hit the fan and the economy took a crap, I was working for a company that went under and lost my job about a year later. So I decided to tool around and see what was going on. I offered to help another brother of mine who was going through a hard time. He lived in Boston, so I did a cross-country drive from LA to Boston.

At this point, I had met five of my brothers and sisters and had been talking with my Nelson family who are mostly from Minnesota, where my father is from. I arranged a meeting with them, so after about a month of traveling, I got to Minnesota and they had a party at my brother's house that had eight aunts and uncles, 30 first cousins, a sister I'd never met, a brother I'd never met - this whole houseful of people that were intimately related to me. They all knew me but I didn't know them. It was really weird, but really cool. I got to know everybody there and then I moved to Boston.

After six months, I was driving my car back and decided to stop back in Minnesota to hang out with my one of my cousins who I'd really connected with. We were chatting and started talking about how there was only one brother left who I hadn’t met. This was Nick. And nobody had been able to get in touch with him for years. 

So I called my mom that night and I was telling her what was going on. She had met the family, of course, because she was married to my dad. I told her about Nick and not being able to find him. She said she would try to find him. I laughed it off because this entire other side of the family had come up with nothing after searching for so long, but 10 minutes later, she called and gave me his address and phone number. She was really into genealogy at the time and was on one of those sites with family trees and stuff and went to that program and it happened that Nick's wife had put up one on there as well.

I called Nick and he was shocked, but we chatted for a bit and made a plan to meet in Salem, Oregon, where he was living. Within like 15 minutes of us meeting it was like we knew that we had this weird connection. I was planning to just meet him and roll out that day, but I ended up staying with him for a week.

I visited a couple of times and Nick visited me in Los Angeles. Then Nick moved to Bend some years after that. I visited Bend a few times and had made plans to move here, but I was engaged to be married and things got in the way. A couple of years later, after the engagement fell apart, it seemed like moving to Bend was meant to be. So I moved here to get to know Nick and his family better and just to try a whole new existence. Why not? For some people that may have been a big jump and a crazy thing to do, but for me it wasn't necessarily that crazy because I had been doing that my whole life. But I really wanted to explore my love for my brother because we are very similar. We are very different people but at the same time I think our spirit is just connected in the strangest, most wonderful way. That's how I ended up here. 

What do you like about Bend?

I've been in Bend for three and a half years now. I love it. Obviously it's a lot different from Los Angeles. It's a lot smaller. Most people think it's so beautiful here - the mountains, the trees, the desert, and all the wonderful things you can do outside. I'm not really an outside person so to speak. I've never been skiing, never been snowboarding, I don't know what a mountain bike looks like. (Laughs) For me, the lack of people, the lack of traffic, the fact that I'm not sitting in my car for 35% of my life which is pretty much your life in LA. You've got to love your car, because it is your second home. The fact that I can get anywhere I want just by walking, just by absorbing life without having to look through a windshield to do it is pretty awesome. 

The people here are really generous. I've strangely met so many wonderful people here that I never thought I would. There are a lot of different artists here that do art that I've never even thought of. I have a friend who makes onesies for a living. I have all these friends that make jewelry. I've never had friends like that before. Most of my friends were into making movies - I was in the entertainment industry. They were artists, but you would have to be part of that community to find them and here I just kind of run into them.

It seems like everybody doesn't have just one thing - they have to have multiple things here because you can't live off the one thing here. It's a difficult place to work and be able to thrive. I've definitely seen that. Poverty with a view. Rent is getting so expensive that the people who are impoverished have to go to Redmond or other towns a little further away from Bend. But it is beautiful and just relaxing. That's what I enjoy about it. 

Currently the job that I have, managing the Tin Pan Theater, is not something I thought I would be able to ever do. It had been a dream of mine some years ago to own my own theater. Make it a multi-entertainment space for live music and poetry and book-readings and have a bar and a stage and a theater. This place is not that but you can make it that. To be gifted this job... 

I sit at the coffee shop, I'm a regular next door at Lone Pine Coffee Roasters. My best friend had introduced me to it about six or seven months into my living here and we became regulars there. We play Go, drink coffee, hang out, and then if you are there every day for a year, you are going to get to know a lot of people. You know? I eventually got to know the owners of the theater because they are right next door. One day I was sitting, drinking coffee, and the owner, comes up to me and asks if I would be interested in managing the movie theater. I was thinking to myself that this guy doesn't know me but I'm the perfect person for the job. I worked at Disney Land for 10 years, I was in the entertainment industry, I was a projectionist. It was shocking and I agreed to it. They don't remember it, but two years before that I had come in to see the theater because I had heard it was really cool and asked if they took volunteers and offered to work for free. They turned it down. (Laughs) Other than my brother and the relationships that I've made, this job keeps me here because it's a dream job. It's a job that I never thought I could ever get without having to fight a bunch of other people to get it and there it was, just offered to me on a silver platter. Bend has treated me well, for sure. And I'm lucky to be here. 

What's your favorite memory from here?

For two years of my living here, I lived in a house with a couple other guys. We got along quite quickly. The owner of the house hadn't done anything to the house, it was mostly empty. And dirty. It was a blank slate of nothingness. He told my roommate and me to feel free to fill the house. We cleaned it and over the next year or so filled it full of art and furniture and lights and we turned the living room into a dance floor. And for a year we had dance parties three times a week. Because I was working at the Humane Society thrift store at the time, I had this incredible access to just crazy weird clothes. The weirdest clothes you could ever think of. I was never a crazy clothes guy. In LA, shorts and t-shirts and flip flops. That's all I ever wore. I never thought about wanting to wear costumes. Ever. Suddenly I have a huge closet full of costumes, just burgeoning everywhere. And we'd have these dance parties and people could only come if they allowed me to dress them in of these costumes. My favorite memory is dancing on that dance floor. Wearing ridiculous, fabulous outfits. I love moo-moos. Moo-moos are great to dance in! They billow really well when you spin. (Laughs) I knew I liked dancing but I never knew how much joy it gave me. Letting go, not having to worry about what people think. Just do what you want and be who you are. That feeling that I had was the same feeling that the other guys I lived with had. We three guys just wanted to exude this feeling of just being yourself. There was no judgment upon you. People that came to our house felt that, too. They wanted to come because they wanted to feel free. My favorite memory from there is being able to help foster a feeling for people to come to a place to just be. I miss it. 

What do you wish for the future?

I'm not sure if I have any future dreams. I've had future dreams earlier in my life. My life has been such that every dream that I've had has been shattered. Been taken away from me. I don't have this giant, hopeful purpose for something any more. I'll want a certain thing and I'll definitely strive for it, but I don't put so much into it that, eventually, if it doesn't work out I don't know what to do with the rest of my life. I am more of a practical individual at this point. My hope for my continued existence here in Bend is to help Tin Pan Theater become more than it already is. To make it a community space. Bring in things other than movies so that people can come enjoy the space. Doing that and learning how to run my own business. I would like to know practically how that works. My hopes are to learn the practicalities of life so that I can once again learn to dream and make those dreams come true. I have a lot of different interests and do a lot of art. It's hard to choose one thing especially if you've done so many things and are good at those things. I can't choose. I'm trying to figure out how to blend all these things into something that will bring other people happiness, bring myself happiness, and financial stability, which is important. I'm trying to learn to be a practical individual at this point in my life. That's my dream.