St. Johns Twin Cinemas

Image: Jake Stangel

Sharon Osbourne don’t need no ding dong Diet Coke, baby.

The disheveled man mumbles hoarsely into a dingy pay phone receiver, speaking in frenzied gulps of conversation about some plasticine celebrity in his mind, impervious to the what-the-hell gawking of passers-by. Around St. Johns he’s known by a few different names. Telephone Man. Trash Shirt (for the way he sometimes stuffs his clothes full of discarded papers). Transistor.

And per his usual MO, Telephone Man has spent the bulk of his day wandering trancelike up and down N Lombard Street, stopping mechanically at every pay phone along the way, an apparent slave to some unscratchable itch for Ma Bell. And for whatever reason, the subject of his phantom call is always one Sharon Osbourne, the woman who turned her husband, Ozzy, Prince of Darkness, into a punch line.

Dang it, I told you Sharon Osbourne don’t need no ding dong Diet Coke.

Not even four years ago St. Johns, the much maligned, rough-and-tumble outpost on the North Portland peninsula, was still being defined by its variety of shady characters. From harmless eccentrics like Telephone Man to gaunt addicts sucking on brown bags to much more sinister elements—prostitutes turning tricks in the alley behind the St. Johns Apartments, drug dealers peddling heroin at the now-defunct Bluebird tavern, fights (at least one fatal) inside Slim’s bar. All the while, the blue-collar workers who made up the bulk of the neighborhood’s population—many working in and around the Rivergate Industrial District of the Port of Portland—kept a stiff upper lip and tried to make the best of things.