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Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Old Apartment: Twelve Years in Portland

If you've been following this blog long enough, you may remember that April 4 is the anniversary of my move to Portland. Yeah, I still find it hard to believe that on this day twelve years ago, April 4, 2001, was the day I started my Grand Portland Adventure, an adventure that shows no signs of wrapping up anytime soon. In the past I've just reminisced about my life in Portland and general, but for this anniversary I wanted to talk about the first place I lived at in town, 1735 SE Morrison Street.

A few weeks ago, after dropping off a bike at a shop on SE Ankeny, I found myself on foot. I headed towards my current apartment in Hosford-Abernathy, but the course of the walk put me through a neighborhood I've known well in my years in Portland: Buckman. Before I even got an apartment myself and my room-mate Chris walked the streets of Buckman, getting a feel of Portland, and looking for apartments. While I still ride through Buckman regularly, the walking route put me on some streets I haven't been on in a long time. Memories came flooding back as I passed by places that I remember having "For Rent" signs up twelve years ago.

And inevitably I found myself in front of the old apartment building. I've lived at many places through the twelve years of my Portland life, yet only a few have had a more special meaning to them. Most of the ones that stand out were during the three year stint from 2008 to 2011: The room in Jesse's house on NE Glisan, The Kitten Shack in NE, and the apartment April and I shared in Montavilla. But the place that probably holds the most meaning to me was the first apartment. Mostly because it was my entry point for my Grand Portland Adventure.
Discourage Records was here during the two years I lived in the building, but during that era the sign simply said "Discourage". This sign is easily seen by car and bus traffic going down SE Morrison. So anytime I told people where I lived, they would go "Oh, the Discourage building."

Chris and I moved into this place in May of 2001. It was indeed a slum of sorts, but it was a great location, just a short bike/bus ride to downtown or Hawthorne. In 2001, that was pretty much the center of things. We paid only $525 for a "two bedroom". I use quotations because in reality it was an apartment that consisted of kitchen, bathroom, and three other rooms. The one small windowless (save for skylight) room was used as the "living room" and we each took a larger room. Chris got the short straw as I floated his deposit, which meant he got the room with an immovable box like structure in the center. This box covered a spiral staircase to the office on the ground floor. Rather than remove the staircase and fix the floor, the landlord just covered over the top of the staircase "in case we decide to rent out both floors as a suite again". Did I mention it was a slum of sorts?

On top of that, we had a leaky bathroom sink and skylight. The building was built in the 1890s by someone who was probably drunk, and remodeled several times over by more drunk people. Our fellow neighbors on the top floor ranged from crazy to surly to indifferent. The house next door was a halfway house. The building across the street was the local phone company exchange, during nights in the summer the workers would hang out outside on their breaks, loudly talking and making catcalls at women. One of our crazy neighbors got arrested very loudly in front of the apartment one night, making our houseguests comment "Wow! Just like Philly!"

But we put up with all that. Our slumlord was a benevolent slumlord, so while it would have been nice to get, he didn't bother us at all. And the rent was ridiculously cheap, and the location very good.

I spent over two years there, from May of 2001 to August of 2003. I had many friends stay with me, whether passing through or using it as their launching pad to their own Grand Portland Adventure. I had three full room-mates plus a few people sublet while my roommates went on adventures, or when I went off on my own adventures. Besides Chris, my first roomie (who I am still in touch with) and good old Travelling Dan, my second roomie (also still in touch with), I had the final Roommate Who Shall Not Be Named (you can guess whether I'm still in touch with him.) He came to town embroiled in a Controversy I Do Not Want To Talk About. Sick of dealing with said controversy and also his shit, I decided to move out. Really, I had all the right to boot the dude, but I decided moving on was a better option. The deficiencies of the building and the other building tenants were also getting to me (including the "classy" tattoo parlour that opened in the space beneath our apartment) so a clean break was needed. But if the Nameless One (and the crazy tattoo parlour) didn't come into the picture, I could have easily seen myself staying there for another year or two. It was just that easy.
The magnolia that was in front of my bedroom. It was a blissful experience when it bloomed.

Coming upon the old building, a feeling of melancholy hit me. It reminded me of that Barenaked Ladies song, "The Old Apartment". Now, I am no fan of  "the Ladies" and can't stand their big hit.* But I sort of like that song, a nice straight-ahead song sans their painful goofiness. If you don't know what it's about, Wikipedia describes the lyrics thusly: (the protagonist of the song) goes back to visit "the old apartment" "where we used to live," and winds up breaking in to reminisce. Although recalling "broken glass," the "crooked landing, crooked landlord," and other disadvantages, he nonetheless feels nostalgia for "fading memories / blending into dull tableaux." 

At the time the single was released in 1997, I was barely into my twenties and still living with my parents. I thought the song was good and melancholic, but I couldn't relate. Now in 2013 I can totally relate. I totally feel the crooked landing, crooked landlord part. (I'm not going to break in, though.) Yet, like the protagonist of the song, I still feel nostalgia for this place. The 2013 me is still essentially the 2001 me, but my life was quite different back then. I was more into comics and zines than bikes, but I did have an unhealthy obsession with coffee and burritos. I had the relentless urge to explore my surroundings, and in those 27 months of living on Morrison I did a ton of exploring of the city. This place, for want of a better term, nurtured me at the beginning of my Grand Portland Adventure.

But even if I want my memories back, I know I can't go back, neither figuratively or literally. As another band sang, it's "Only a Memory". I would put a hopeful spin and say that there are people living at 1735 SE Morrison starting their own Grand Portland Adventures, so that the spirit lives on. But it doesn't. Apparently the old apartments on the top floor are converted to offices. The place I used to live now an environmental consulting firm. Oh well.

*If I was Canadian, this would be grounds for deportation.

1 comment:

  1. Nah, it's perfectly acceptable to trash the Barenekkid Ladies. In Canada of course they had previous and fondly remembered hits before the big one.

    My Dad used to comment that the house I grew up in was built by drunk people. But then, he knew them. And it was in Newfoundland.


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