Quality time in my new place

When I was living out of a backpack for months on end, I often pondered how strange it would be to eventually return to a “normal” life.  Go to work in the morning.  Sleep in the same bed every night.  Wash my clothes whenever I want (oh the luxury!).

Turns out it is frighteningly easy to slip on the glove of normalcy.  If fits comfortably and snugly, causing me to wonder now if that whole backpack / Mexico / broken foot / arctic / Europe thing was some long and particularly detailed dream.

So I became gainfully employed again, and no sooner had I done that than I re-acquired all the trappings of normalcy like a good little consumer.  A car.  An apartment.  I just bought a broom today for cryin’ out loud.

However, while it is all quite comfortable and familiar, there are hazards to a new place.  Take, for example, my deck.

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It’s a large deck. It was really the selling point for me as I imagined warm, sunny spring days on it, a grill, some friends, a few beers, some music in the background; sounds about right.

Sadly, this is November in Portland. One would required heat lamps, parkas, and perhaps a bonfire built in the center of the deck to enjoy it properly. Also, the new job keeps me frantically busy, and with the shorter days, my opportunity to spend any quality time out on the deck has been limited. So I was hoping for a chance soon to spend some time relaxing out there, even if it’s a slight bit chilly.

Now, Wednesday mornings there is an exercise class at Nike that I’ve been eager to try out. So on Wednesday morning I rouse myself from my warm bed at 6:30, put on my running shorts and a tank top, figuring I’ll just throw a coat on as I leave, thus not have to change before the class. I pack my backpack with clothes for the day, ensuring all the stuff I need is in there (wallet, keys, phone, money, etc). Before running out the door I remember that I have to do one of those other mundane aspects of life: trim my toenails. Well, might as well do it out on the deck as I won’t have to worry about nail clippings.

It’s dark still, but I have small lights on the deck. It’s chilly, but refreshing actually, and the city is quiet and still. very peaceful. I remind myself that I must spend some time on the deck this weekend. Taking in one last breath and enjoying the view of my new home, I check my watch to see that I’m probably about five minutes late if I want to get to the class on time. Right: time to swing into action.

Now, when one’s mind is set on a course of action for the day and has a long list of things that will happen (workout, early phone conference, meetings, lunch, more meetings, and by the way: gotta find a new renter for the house back in Seattle), and suddenly you meet an unexpected roadblock, the mental traffic pileup isn’t sudden, but more like a slow-motion careening pile up of out-of-control vehicles, much like Portland drivers in snow.

So it was when I exited the deck, I found that the sliding door somehow locked itself behind me. My plans slowly ran into each other as I tugged and pulled in disbelief, eventually piling up in a messy heap as I looked around, unsure that this was actually happening.

My thinking went something like this:

“Really? I mean: REALLY??

“It must just be stuck, it can’t have actually locked on me

“Welp, gonna be late for that class for sure now”

“wow.  It’s kinda cold”

“Hmm, I have no way to call anyone.”

“I must look pretty stupid out here alone on my bare deck in my shorts and socks”

“Okay, so let’s assess: There’s no way off of my deck, nobody knows me here, and nobody in Portland is going to come visit me… I’m pretty much hosed.”

It’s at this point, about 5 minutes in, that it fully sinks in that I’m on my deck, it’s not quite 7am, and all I’ve got going for me is running shorts, a lightweight tank top, socks, and toenail clippers.  This is not an ideal set of tools for basic survival.

So: options:

  1. Wake up a neighbor, have them come let me in.  This would involve hopping the barrier between decks, banging on windows, and looking like some very misguided burglar in the early morning.
  2. Climb down.  I’m on the 2nd floor, it’s not impossible.
  3. Yell at someone passing by, get them to come in the building and let me into my own apartment.

Several problems with each of these scenarios: first off, I’m painfully, horribly, almost neurotically against inconveniencing others.  I won’t go talk to strangers because I fear that I might bother them in some way.  I arrange myself in groups to minimize the chance of me giving offense in some unknown or unexpected way.  It’s pretty much always on my mind how I can NOT bother other people best.  In this way I feel a great kinship with what I understand of British sensibilities.  So waking up the neighbors is an option to be considered some point after I’ve developed hypothermia, but slightly before I use the toenail clippers to remove my leg and prep it for a meal to sustain me for the long haul.

So: option 2: the drop to the ground is a fair ways.  I see a pole sticking out about six feet below the ledge of my deck, and I imagine that if I was able to get to that pole and hang from it, I would still fall around five feet.  While that is entirely doable, I don’t know if the pole would support me (it’s currently supporting a fabric banner), and I’ve already broken my foot once this year, and am not eager to repeat that experience.

Okay then; option 3: However, the entire city is still asleep.  There are no people walking by.  There are no lights on in my building, or the building across the street, or anywhere that I can see.  Even if I could find someone, it’s a security building so they wouldn’t be able to get in.  Even if they DID get in, they couldn’t take the elevator to my apartment to let me in because it is key fob access only until 10am.

This realization sinks in: I could be here a long time.  So I resume pulling and tugging at the door to see if I can jar it off it’s lock.  No dice.  However, I remember that I have one weapon with me:

The toe nail clippers.

Straightening the lever part I am able to insert it into the keyhole and begin to twist and jiggle, imagining I will be able to pick the lock like a ninja cat burglar.  After all, I’ve read about “bump keys” to defeat standard lock tumbler mechanisms.  Surely I can attain something like that here if I am diligent and determined enough?

By seven I have surrendered those fantasies.  The rising sun has lit the city up, and I realize that I’m not just kinda chilly, but actually trending towards “rather cold, indeed”.

And now I begin pacing.  None of the three options seem to be particularly palatable.  To explain how adverse I am to bothering other people, I continue to evaluate the “hang from the ledge, drop to the ground, break my foot” option as my most likely course of action.

However, after ten minutes or so of pacing, I finally use logic and self-preservation to squash those thoughts, cross the barrier to my neighbor’s deck (simmering in guilt, knowing that someone is watching and thinking “what is that fool doing?”), and go to knock on their glass door.

And I stand there, hand raised to knock, frozen like I’m on a pedestal in the Louvre.

I just can’t bring myself to do it.  Logically I realize that were situations reversed, I would initially be alarmed at someone on my deck, but quickly get over it and we would have a good laugh at the situation.  However, my inner Brit is having none of this tomfoolery: it’s embarrassing, inelegant, and just downright improper. After trying a couple of times, I give up, cross the barrier again back to my own deck, and resume pacing.   I look over the ledge, and every now and then I see a person pass by, usually with headphones on, oblivious to the world.  Once I wave feebly, uttering a meek “er… excuse me…”, but the man passes by without noticing.

It comes to be about 7:30.  I’ve been out here for about 45 minutes by now, and now I’m certainly cold, and increasingly desperate.  My pacing has proven to be a completely unhelpful fourth option.  I have no recourse, I MUST wake the neighbor.  Why aren’t they up already?  Don’t they have jobs or lives or something?

On pondering this, the light turns on in a third floor apartment, and through a narrow slit in the blinds of the bedroom, I can see someone moving around.  I attempt to make eye contact, but then realize that it’s a woman moving around in there.  In her bedroom.  And here I am, staring up and in.  Of course she will think I’m a pervert.  Worse, she’ll recognize me in the halls for the rest of our lives, point me out to fellow residents.  I’ll be forever branded the peeper in 203.

While pondering this, her light goes out.  So I am once again alone on the deck.  Now the worse thought strikes me: what if I wait so long that everyone leaves for work?  Then I may be stuck on this deck indefinitely.

This finally pushes me to action.  Resolutely I climb the barrier again.  I approach the glass door, and, leaving no room for thoughts or second guessing, I pound loudly on the glass, then I stand back and stew in embarrassment.  While waiting, I rehearse what I will say, how I will smile apologetically, hands up to show I mean no harm.  I imagine we’ll all have a good laugh over this, and when I see my neighbor in the hall in the coming months, we’ll now have a little special bond over this singularly stupid occasion.

The lights don’t come on.

I bang on the door again, this time more forcefully.

Nothing.  Bang! Bang! Bang!  Now I’m imagining my neighbor is a complete deadbeat, do-nothing, lackadaisical lay-about.  I’m getting angry and him or her; why kind of reject is not in their apartment at almost eight in the morning?  Or so deep in sleep that even an accidental frozen burglar can’t rouse them?

Eventually I give up.  Stepping into the sunlight I can at least get a little bit of warmth where it hits my skin directly.  It is now after eight, meaning I’ve been stuck on my deck for nearly an hour and a half.  I wonder if I will be here for another hour.  Or two.  Or more.

“HI NEIGHBOR!”

This is shouted at me from a fair distance.  I look across the street, to the building opposite mine, and far up to the top floor.  Three people are on a balcony, coffee cups in hand.  They are staring at me.  One waves:

“NICE SETUP YOU’VE GOT THERE!”

My heart leaps.  At last!  Fellow humans I can communicate with!  So what is the first thing out of my mouth?  A call for help?  A plea to rescue me from my predicament?

No, I feebly explain that it’s not my deck, that I’m trespassing, and I guess that they can see my embarrassment even from their distance.  What is wrong with me?

Regardless, eventually I explain why I’m on the wrong deck, that my actual deck is the empty one over there, that I have somehow locked myself out, and would they please come down from their lofty height and lend a brother a hand.

I’m not sure all this translates well over the distance as I see them hoisting their coffee cups at me cheerfully, then they are pointing out over the bridge, probably commenting amiably to each other about the color of the sunrise, the reflections on the water, the painted clouds, etcetera.

I begin to despise them.

I hurdle back over to my deck and feebly tug at the door some more, hoping the visual display of my helplessness will drive the point home for them: I’m stuck, in shorts and socks, and may become an icicle in front of their very eyes.  However, they continue to chat amongst themselves.

I give up and look out on the street.  People at work will be wondering if I’m not in by nine.  But what can they do?  They could send email, or call me, but both of those devices are behind that damnable glass door.

“So, you are stuck, huh?” The girl from the other building yells up at me from the road.  She has come down from her building, and now looks up at me, coffee cup in hand. “I was just finishing my cigarette up there.”

On the one hand: really?  A cigarette while a fellow human freezes across from you?

On the other hand: thank god.

She disappears around the front of my building for a few minutes, then reappears, saying “okay, help is on the way” before strolling back across to her building.  Minutes later a custodian appears at my door and I am back in my apartment, happily, gratefully, warmly.

So, a few observations:

  • I will never, EVER, close that door behind me again.  Ever.
  • I will never be without my cell phone again.  If I could implant it in my arm, I would.
  • I must be careful what I wish for, as a desire to spend some time on my deck does not specify the manner in which said time will be spent.  Lesson learned.

Not the most ideal way to start a Wednesday morning.  However, all told I was very appreciative of every moment that day when I could move around as I wished, fully clothed, with easy access to heat, water and food.

Portland vs. Seattle, part one

“Oh, your from Seattle? Well, Portland is a lot like that. Except, like, way better!”

This is the common refrain I hear around Portland. Since I’ve had this argument with Elder Wanker for nigh unto decades now, my hackles spring up and I prepare to debate the finer points of why this person is horribly, catastrophically mistaken.

Except, I haven’t lived here. Yet.

So: open mind. Breathe.

“Yeah, Portland is great. Love the food carts” is my usual reply. At which point said person dives into their own special thing they love.

My week in Portland so far has been pretty fabulous I must admit.  I’ve gotten to walk around a lot and have started to form a more detailed opinion of what is to be my new home.

Now, I’ve mentioned the food cart scene before, so I should save any updates on those until I’ve got enough for a full run-through.  Much “research” is needed.

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Can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a food cart. Speaking of which, wonder if there’s a Vietnamese cart anywhere?

But the town itself I haven’t really dived into before. Well, turns out it’s got all the lovely things a major city needs. Buildings. Parks. Much more comprehensive mass-transit options than Seattle. And it’s a pretty friendly place over all:

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Much preferred to the nightmare-inducing baby sculptures from Prague.

After my time through Europe, I saw so many beautiful and noteworthy stone churches that I started to become blind to them. They faded into the otherwise amazing historical setting of most major (and minor) towns in Europe. But now back in the states I find that Portland has a few of their own:

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Modernity looms like a glass and steel behemoth

They are even branching out to try to make them appear less… stodgy? Not sure if that’s the right description, but still: cool contrast.

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Striking design for a church. Seems almost… European in it’s coolness.

And they are far more inclusive than churches that I’m used to.

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Goldfish? Really? I’d kinda love to be there when they individually bless each one.

And even though they have been modernizing the Northwest of the city for nearly a decade now, they do a good job of preserving some of the old buildings and putting them to use. Makes for a great walking area with really interesting shops and restaurants.

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But one thing really stands out as something Portland is doing right. I’ve been all around the west side of the city here, and I’ve seen a number of these around. I saw some attempts at these kinds of solutions in places like London, but they were open-air and useful only for guys. These installations make the city better for everyone.

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True civilization.

Also, Portland has a pretty impressive number of homeless / transient / vagabond seeming folks on the streets, so the installations of a publicly available toilet are even more welcome. I think we can all agree that we’d rather have everyone deposit their bodily functions in private and in a controlled spot.

Speaking of the homeless: the saying goes (and this is from that show, Portlandia, I think): “Portland is where young people go to retire”. Current sporadic evidence supports this. Lots of young, dreadlocked, busker-seeming kids hanging around with various cardboard signs entreating you to deposit a few sheckles in their waiting hands. Not sure why Portland is a good place for this? I would think Southern California would be a MUCH better option.

However! They are not all young buskers. No, they come in all sizes and stripes. Why just tonight as I was walking back from grocery shopping for the first time in… well, a long time, an obviously homeless man greeted me by saying “good day.” I thought that was quite polite of him, so I greeted him back with what I thought was a pleasant smile and a return of his salute. He immediately growled at me “You need to listen to some FUNKADELIC MUSIC! It’ll improve your personality!”

I’m not sure how he could ascertain I have a particularly problematic personality from such a brief interaction, so I’ll just have to chalk it up to him being a very astute observer. As I continued on down the road he yelled after me: “IT’LL IMPROVE YOUR  LIFE!”  Indeed.  I will take this under advisement.

Thus endeth my last week before I rejoin the work force. I should point out that I’ve just experienced one of the innate and special joys of life that I didn’t know I had missed until this very moment: putting on clothes directly out of the dryer in mid-cycle. That’s some good stuff.

The tooth of the matter

Cleaning out an apartment, getting rid of all your world possessions gets down to lots of strange things you may have carried around for far too long.

In my case, it was a tooth.

To be specific, it was a tooth with a gold grown.  My wisdom tooth.  Extracted from my head forcibly in 2002 I think.  It lived in a little manila packet in my closet for years as I intended to go sell the gold and recoup some amount of whatever exorbitant expenses I originally paid to have it installed.  The rigors of every day life always put it 42nd on the list though, so in the closet it stayed.  It moved with me, and as gold prices skyrocketed over the last couple years it would murmur at me from behind closed doors: “probably oughta sell me soon.  Prices are bound to crash again.”  Silly teeth, they are terrible market predictors.

Now, however, I was getting rid of everything.  The tooth had to go.  In the mad rush to get everything out of my apartment, it eventually moved from closet, to counter, and then finally on the last day as I was cleaning my apartment, into my coat pocket.  It stayed there as I took my trip down to Oregon.

Now southern Oregon, as it turns out, seems to be at least half supported by the purchasing of gold.  Everywhere I drove in Medford, you couldn’t swing a dead tooth without hitting a sign saying “WE BUY GOLD! TOP DOLLAR!!  WE PAY MORE!”  So, finally I was cornered: I had time, I had places to choose from and I had the tooth.

I decided to choose the most reputable-seeming shop: the coin merchant in the mall.  The rest of the pawn shops and strangely newly-appropriated buildings with banner signs that sagged seemed like they might be shady, and I didn’t trust my precious tooth to them.

So it was, that I found myself attempting to sell gold, feeling a little shady myself.

Me: “so, I have a tooth with gold in it”

White-haired man: “filling or crown?”

Me: “er, crown.  I think.”

whm: “not a problem, grip the tooth with a pliers, then take a hammer and it’ll come right off.”

me: “and you guys buy the gold?  How does that work?”

whm: “we weigh it and give you spot price for it.”

me: “seems pretty straight forward.  I’ll be back”.

The following day I asked my father for a hammer and pliers.  I expected him to ask what for, but he just hauled out a number of instruments and presented them to me.  On seeing what I was attempting to perform, he suggested, in a manner that suggested this was commonplace, that two pliers might be a better solution.

Note to those who may attempt this sometime in their lives: a tooth that has been sitting around without a head to nourish it, dies.  Becomes a bit brittle.  Also: gold is slipperier than expected when attempting to grip with a large-toothed set of pliers.  Net result: the tooth basically disintegrated into bone powder, the adhesive that held the whole mess together remained a gooey blob like gum on the sidewalk, and in the end I walked away with $38.12.

Tacos are on me.  Kids: remember to floss.

What’s for dinner? Well, what’s left in the fridge?

What do you do with a box of refrigerator rejects: mustard, ketchup, mayo, barbecue sauce, vinegar, blue cheese salad dressing, a jar of crushed basil, another jar of minced garlic, and some salsa?  All of these in various states of use.

I’ve moved many times.  I believe I’m not alone in some generalities: there is a mass of things you move very orderly.  Large items with predetermined destinations in your new place. Labeled boxes of sorted items: kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, storage.   There is another category of things: the boxes of random crap.  Reject items of no real grouping: a bicycle bump along with a lone throw pillow, a bottle of Advil  a belt you haven’t used in 2 decades, Windex  a spare sock found by the dryer, 3 batteries and a cup.  Stuff that for one reason or another didn’t make the cut with the rest of the ordered goods.

Eventually all this finds its way to your new place.  Even the random box.  But what if you have no new place?  I’ve only got a backpack.  If I wind up in Mexico and pull out three batteries, a sock, and some Windex, please revoke my right to travel, clearly I’m doing it wrong.

Even worse this time was the stuff in the fridge.  Normally in a move, as the date approaches you stop buying stuff that has to be refrigerated, try to consume as much of the remnants as possible, and at the end you move a box of orphans from one place to the other.  So it was with me this time.  As the final day approached I ate items from the freezer that were easily over a year old.  Dinner one night was broccoli.  That’s all, just broccoli.  2 bags of frozen broccoli that comes up shriveled, watery, and somehow mysteriously chewy.  Another night a tuna steak that had been in the freezer since time began.  Oh, the sweet zest of freezer burn!

What’s that?  Just throw it out?  Listen up: there are children starving in Africa.  This is good, nutritious food, little mister.  Money was spent on this and now that you are unemployed, well money is going to be pretty scarce, now isn’t it?  Sure, you could go across the street and get a burrito, but you have food RIGHT HERE that needs eating.  So get to it.

So the final meal?  Hold on to your hats, foodies:

– 2 bags of frozen spinach, with flax seed oil and lemon juice.

– 1 jar of pimento stuffed olives

– 1 spoonful of almond butter (one should ensure a bit of protein, no?)

As for the box of orphan condiments mentioned at the beginning of this?  Well, it appears I do have limits.  They joined their freezer friends (a bag of green beans I couldn’t bring myself to eat and the 2nd tuna steak) in the dumpster.

Ultimately I’m left to wonder why I found it so easy to get rid of a couch, TV, clothes, and other major things, yet guilt-wrenching and stress inducing to just say goodbye to a 3 year old half-used bottle of ketchup.  There’s a lesson in here somewhere.  I’m sure the Buddha himself would have some wisdom to confer where he there to share the spinach / flax / lemon juice concoction with me.

Purge

Step one: get rid of things you don’t need.

Now, “need” is  a tricky word.  Do I need a couch?  Not while I’m traveling.  Done, away it goes.  Do I need bowls and plates?  Nope, out they go.  Big flat screen TV?  Table and chairs?  Dresser and bookcase?  Nay!  Begone, foul anchors of a static life!

Now, waitaminit… I may come back to this life eventually, right?  Won’t I just need to get a couch again?  And some plates?  And eventually a device which allows me to watch Miyazaki films whilst sitting on said couch, eating food from said plates?

Sure.  But since I’m not coming back tomorrow, or next week, or next month, I’d have to pay to store these things.  And what if, while exploring, I find something / somewhere I’d rather do and be, which is kinda the point?  Well, then I will have paid for stuff I’m not using to be stored in a place that’s not mine, only to have to pay someone to eventually remove the unused stuff and get rid of it.  Plus, aren’t there people who can use these things while I’m not using them?

All of this leads me to conclude that getting rid of everything is the sensible thing.

But wait one more time!  What about… shoes?

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Well some things would be just silly to get rid of.  Photo albums.  Tax records.  Shoes.  Don’t judge me: my size 12 feet happen to taper from gnarled and talon-like hooks at the front to rail-like wedges near the heel making finding a shoe that works for me quite an ordeal.  My shoes are precious.

I must admit to being slightly disappointed in my actual results: My dream was to get down to just what was in my backpack.  Reality: I stored around 10 boxes of stuff at my brother’s house, plus my bed which has a rather nice and expensive mattress.  Even so, the process of getting rid of stuff was pretty fantastic.  Facebook cleared out most things, a few trips to Goodwill and Salvation Army cleared out the rest.

Now I’ve got a backpack, a passport, and little else. This causes several competing reactions in me:

1.) Oh god oh god I’m homeless and unemployed. At 43. What have I done with my life?
2.) Awesome. I am free of “things”, unencumbered. I can go anywhere and do anything. I am FREE.
3.) Boy, a sandwich sounds good right about now.

Onward. The future awaits. And hopefully it waits with many interesting and exciting new sandwiches.

Midlife trippin’

Midlife.  Not a pretty thought.  This ride is halfway over.  And it’s all downhill from here.  Or rather, as your body starts to inform you on a daily basis, a steady uphill battle that you will ultimately lose.  The common refrain: “is this all there is?”

Midlife hit me slowly, creeping up over the years.  It may have actually started as early as my 20’s.  I watched friends and siblings travel the globe, explore their passions, try new things, and expand their worlds.  Meanwhile I focused on my stable, suburban life and raising my son.

Attending PTA meetings.

Earning a progressively better paycheck.

Mowing the lawn.

Flossing my teeth.

The corner of my eye was forever on the voyagers, though.  Even when I had a great job that I loved and my life was going by all measures great, I coveted the adventure.  Not the kind of adventure one does on a week long trip though.  I had vacations to some amazing places: Japan, Thailand, Mexico.  These trips were invariably great, but they were also just a vacation: a break from the pressures of life.  What I craved was something more immersive.  More fundamental.  More fulfilling.  MORE.

Then, seemingly in a blink of an eye my son graduated, became gainfully employed, moved out, and I woke up with gray hair and an empty apartment.

So, mid-life for me.  Should I buy a convertible?  Date women half my age?  What is proper protocol, after all?

After careful consideration, and weighing my standing as a fine, responsible adult, the proper response appears to be “hell with protocol”.  I’ve been thinking of traveling, learning, and exploring my passions for 2 decades or more.  I have savings and investments that will allow me to live without a paycheck for a while.  I don’t have dependents for the first time in my adult life.  And as my father succinctly explained to me: “you aren’t getting any younger”.

So: the time is now.  Time to explore.