Monday, July 23, 2007

Meet The Neighbors

Part 2 of the story began in the last post.

I moved into the Jensonia apartment building in June of 1998. I had answered an ad in The Stranger after my roommate at the time told me he was going to move in with his girlfriend. I had no desire to keep our two-bedroom place on Capitol Hill and find someone else to move in so I went looking for a place for just myself. I was getting really close to the time I had to be out of the old place and was getting really worried that I would be homeless soon. I finally saw something in the classifieds of Seattle’s free weekly paper that looked promising, a one-bedroom apartment on First Hill for $425 a month. I called right away. The girl who placed the ad was a tenant looking for someone to take over her lease that had about six months left on it. She gave me the address of the building and I went over to meet her on my lunch break from the annoying intellectual property law firm I was working for as the office supply purchasing manager.

I found the building, at the back side of Freeway Park next to the 8th Street overpass as I described in my previous post, and she was waiting outside for me. I discovered that the reason for this was that the building did not have a buzzer. Kind of an annoyance, especially in the days before most people owned cell phones and your friends could just call you when they got to the front of the building. But no biggie.

I dug the building when I first saw it even though you could tell it was a shell of its former self. Seven stories tall with great molding designs and big ledges at the top. It also had a great front stoop with plenty of room for people to sit around. But it had seen better days. Paint was peeling in just about every part of the outside and a lot of the molding was either cracked or even had big chunks knocked off. But still, in a town with a dearth of good architecture this was cooler looking than most.

Once we got inside I was excited to discover that the elevator was the one of the old-fashioned door and gate types. You had to slam the outside door shut and then close the gate before hitting the button. My 27 year-old self thought that was pretty damn rad. Up to that point in my life I don’t think I ever lived in a building that was built any earlier than the 1960s, with the possible exception of an off-campus house during college that may have been from around World War II. But that was a two-story country home in a small Midwestern town. So stuff like an old-school elevator was pretty impressive.

I would quickly learn that the downside to this type of elevator was that people would sometimes not close the door all the way after they got off and it wouldn't come when called. I used the stair a lot more than I thought I would.

We took the elevator up to the fourth floor to the apartment. The inside of the building had seen better days as well. The carpet was worn and dirty and the hall smelled of a combination of stale cigarette smoke and, well, dirty carpet. The paint was about the darkest you could ever imagine white being. We got in the apartment though and I was hooked right away. Granted, the apartment was a little worn like the rest of the place, but it was a huge one-bedroom place. There was a little foyer when you walked in that extended as a little hallway down to the bathroom. From the hallway there were two separate doorways into each of the main rooms. The one on the left, the living room, had the small pantry-size kitchen just off of it. To the right was the bedroom, just as big as the living room, which had a Murphy bed and behind it a walk-in closet. Like the elevator, my young Generation-X self was quite impressed by the Murphy bed. I took the place right away. How could I not? Even in Seattle’s market at that time a place with over 600 square feet at $425 a month on the edge of downtown was a steal no matter what the condition. And my commute to work would be a 4-minute walk through Freeway Park. Seriously, I would light a cigarette as I walked out of the building in the morning and still not be done with it when I got to the front door of the office building where I worked.

Besides, a Murphy bed man!

I went down with the girl leaving the apartment to the manager’s office to sign the lease (or at least the rest of hers). I learned that the door right off the lobby when you come in was the apartment and office for the middle-aged couple that owned the place. The husband’s father had been the owner until he died a couple of years earlier and I guessed they inherited the building. They were quite the white trash type but pretty nice. The guy was a part time bus driver for the King County Metro and I don’t think I ever saw him wearing anything, unless he had his driver uniform on, but a dirty white t-shirt and cut-off jean shorts. He liked to drink beer on the front stoop with another middle-aged bearded guy who lived in the building.

While moving in I met the resident maintenance guy because he lived at the end of the hall on my floor in one of a cluster of three studio apartments that shared a bathroom. He was in his early 40s with longish straight dirty blond hair and a full scraggly beard as well as being wire thin. He basically looked like he could have been in the Allman Brothers Band.

It didn't take long for him to start inviting me over to hang out at his place which seemed to be the social nerve center for the building. At any given time in his pad you would find the early twenties hippy dude hanging out with the thirty-something slightly overweight butch lesbian couple and the young sports loving former frat boy. There would be others in the mix at any given time that sometimes included the very quiet and really large black ex-military dude.

And there was always a bong being passed.

A lot of times they ended up at my place because I had cable. The handy man guy (I've been racking my brain trying to remember his name for this story but it just escapes me) would pop by my place several times a week to hang out in the evening, either with the offer of a bowl to hit or sometimes to see if I was holding because his stash ran out and he couldn't get a hold of his dealer. He may have been the only guy I ever knew that was actually addicted to marijuana. One time he showed up at my door looking for some and came inside and started pacing around.

“Got any weed man?”
“No, I’m out and I already scraped all my resin.”

He paced for a little while in my place and told me to give him a call if I found anybody who had some. He was pretty wound up, and this was a guy that I had come to know as one of the mellowest dudes I had ever met. He was kind of scary straight. On pot he was happy go lucky and would sit around and play his guitar.

Most of this motley little crew were the veterans in the building, who knew how to work it for their benefit. I often saw the butch lesbian couple on ladders or scaffolding outside the building doing work for a break on their rent. I once handed water to them when I spotted them outside my kitchen window.

Nobody in the building had a lot and they usually had to work the system one way or another to eke out their place in the world. But they always had enough to share. It wasn't uncommon for the ladies to show up at my place with a case of beer and a bag of pretzels and the handy man to show up with a joint and all the fixings to make meatloaf.

The sports loving ex-frat boy would show up empty handed, but hey, what do you expect?

It was a great time and a weird little combination of neighbors. It sometimes felt like I was living on the island of misfit toys. But I knew and hung out with more of my neighbors than at any other place I have ever lived before or since.

And one night in October I would be really glad I did.

To be continued...

Next - The Crime

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

There Went The Neighborhood

A couple of weeks ago there was a very stern sounding knock on our apartment door in the middle of a weekday. I happened to be working from home that day. I answered the door and it was a guy who announced himself as a police officer. He was in plain clothes and he showed me his badge just like an episode of Law & Order. For reasons still unknown he was looking for one of our neighbors, one of the PhD kids who share the next apartment down the hall. It was pretty boring encounter, since I had no information about his "perp," hadn't seen him for a while and didn't know if he was around at all. Even when I do see any of the guys who live there they don't even say hi in the hallway much less tell me their names, they are all pretty anti-neighbor-social so I'm not even sure which one the cop was talking about.

But it did take me back. The only other time I had a cop show up at my door as an adult was at a building I lived in next to the back side of Freeway Park in Seattle. It had happened when I was a kid, but we really don't want to get into the stories of cops showing up to break up fights between my mother and step dad. Nobody here deserves to be forced to take a trip to that part of my head.

In 1998 I lived a building called the Jensonia at 1214 8th Avenue. The Jensonia is a great old 7-story building from the 1920s that survived the creation of the freeway (I-5) between downtown and First Hill in the mid-60s by a matter of about 200 feet. This blow to the neighborhood of First Hill in the 1960s was partially made up for by the creation of the wonderful Freeway Park, which covered a portion of the freeway along this stretch in the 1970s. Anybody who has ever been there knows what a fantastic urban park it is, with waterfalls and walking paths. A nice respite in the middle of the urban surrounding of downtown Seattle. Small, but a much better thing than an open freeway cut.

But this community gem couldn't make up for one part of the bad urban planning of cutting a highway through a city core. The 8th Avenue viaduct. 8th Avenue ran to the bottom of the northwest side of the hill on its way toward Pike St. The way they decided to continue the road to the other side of the freeway was to build a viaduct that begins at the top of the hill on the corner of Seneca St, over a block-long section of the old 8th Avenue, crossing the new I-5 to eventually meet Pike St and then continues as a regular road from there. The Jensonia sits on the bottom of that old section of 8th.

So about 20-30 feet from the front of the building sits a road viaduct that is level with about the 2nd and 3rd floors. Freeway Park made the block quiet, the viaduct made it dark, dingy, a little scary and also served as another economic barrier in addition to the interstate.

Can we say ghetto in the making?

Yes it bordered the park, but you had to walk up about the equivalent of two or three flights of stairs to get to it. At ground level you were looking at the walls of the park. And you were under a bridge.

The Jensonia later also survived the expansion of Virginia Mason Medical Center, which opened a new research building right up against the back (east) side of it in 1999. But by this time where it lived was basically a back alley instead of a neighborhood.

I moved in to apartment 405 in the summer of 1998.

To be continued...

Next - The Neighbors

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Records Were Made To Be

I bought a new record the other day. Really. An actual new vinyl record.

Let me qualify that a little bit. I did not buy a brand new album on vinyl or a record that was pressed this year. I bought an album from 1996. But I got it still in its factory seal and I was the first person to put a needle down on the grooves.

It's been a while since I've bought a new record. Most of the vinyl purchases I've made over the last decade or more have been random finds of used records in various stages of wear and tear. One of the best times I had finding records was a few years ago when I was stopping at antique stores with my wife several years ago, before we got married, on our way through Vermont after I had dragged her to a Wilco show in Burlington.

I tell ya, nothing makes you stop and say "Oh shit, I'm an adult now" like actually going antiquing. Or even using the word "antiquing". It was the price to pay for making her travel hundreds of miles to see a band that I had probably seen just a few days earlier anyway.

While my fiance was looking at furniture pieces at one place I stumbled on a great collection of records. I ended up getting some great albums like Elton John's Madman Across The Water, the first Split Enz album (with a really cool design carved right on the black vinyl), Fleetwood Mac Rumors, a live Warren Zevon, a Jefferson Airplane collection and Lenny Bruce at Carnegie Hall (a triple record!!!).

And picking up some great used treasures is great. But I had forgotten what it was like to get a new record.

I wanted for a long time to get a copy of Robyn Hitchcock's Mossy Liquor, a companion piece to his album Moss Elixir from 1996, one of my top three Robyn albums. He released the limited edition, vinyl only Mossy Liquor with six demo versions of songs from the album (one sung in Swedish) and six other songs unavailable anywhere else. I of course had the regular album on CD because, well , it came out in 1996. But I never got the limited edition vinyl at the time because I was probably broke or whatever other reason. I thought I had missed my chance to get it years ago but I did a quick search on Amazon just to see if any of the secondary sellers had a used copy, and much to my surprise I found a new one.

I probably hadn't opened a new record since I was like seventeen or eighteen, and that would have been a twelve-inch single. The last vinyl album I bought was probably The Unforgettable Fire when I was fifteen.

Man, what a rush. I love getting new CDs and all, opening the case and looking at the booklet and studying the art will make me all giddy when I pick up a new album. But I had forgotten how cool the tactical sensation is when opening a record. A CD has it, but not quite as much. An iPod download obviously doesn't have even a smidgen of that.

Ripping open the record and looking at the big artwork, touching the edge of the vinyl, looking at the shiny grooves that carries your music, giving it a sniff (yes I smelled it). Man, there is not too much better than that. The whole package just brings so much to the music listening experience.

I'm not the Luddite that I'm sometimes accused of being. I mean, I only found this record I've been wanting to find for years because of the Internet. The means by which I collect my live bootlegs (I'm well over 200 shows now), BitTorrent, is probably the most advanced file sharing program that exist today. Hell, I wouldn't even have a live show collection without it. The only live show traders I ever met before the Internet trading started was the Dead Heads in college, and that didn't do me any damn good. So thank god for the Internet helping me become a bootleg geek. And I'm not even saying that I'm going to go back to vinyl, which would be impossible anyway. CDs are a great way to listen to music. Fantastic sound, you get artwork, albeit smaller than it used to be with records, and it is portable.

But getting a new record reminded me of just how precious the whole experience of listening to music is to me. It's why I can't get an iPod. Not having anything to open or the lack of having a cover to look at the first time you sit and listen to an album just doesn't appeal to me. That's without even taking in to account the fact that listening to your music on an iPod makes it sound like you are listening to it on an AM radio. Music is just too important to treat like that. It really is the worst thing to happen to music since the cassette player.

It might have something to do with why records are making something of a comeback. I read the other day that there are more records pressed today than ten years ago. And the sound quality is even better than ever, with 180 gram technology (if you can use that word for vinyl) being all the rage. They also make listening so much more of an active instead of a passive experience.

My main music listening is still going to be in CD form but I think I'll make more of an effort to pick up a special album here and there on vinyl.

Gotta go. Time to flip to side two.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

As Luck Would Have It

A bunch of couples are getting married today, in record numbers I've read, because of the date. These people seem to think that getting married on 07-07-07 will somehow be good luck for their marriage.

And my friends wonder why it seems like people annoy me so much.

I've written about this topic before, but superstition absolutely annoys the crap out of me. I wonder what kind of brain dead backward-ass country fucks actually think that getting married on the date with all the sevens in it will somehow be good for the future of their marriage. Someone needs to buy these people a clue. What day you get married will have absolutely no impact on if you have a good marriage or not. It is an arbitrary number, made up by man to keep track of time. There is no luck involved, good or bad. That's also why the world didn't end on January 1st 2000 (or 2001 for you sticklers for when the millennium really started).

This is just another reminder of how much I hate superstition, and that includes religion of course.

Not that it takes a Christian trailer trash to believe in such similar nonsense. Many of my theatre brethren have their own dumb-tastic beliefs. I make it a point to say "Macbeth" whenever I'm in a theater just to fuck with their heads, and to point out that it has no bearing on how the show will go that night.

I feel so alone in the world sometimes. When will common sense instead of belief in the supernatural be the basis of our decision making?

The media has loved running stories about the people getting married today. But what I'd like to see, and this will never happen, is a story on all of them in ten years.

I will bet a thousand dollars that the divorce rate among the lucky 7s will be exactly the same as people who got married any other day.

I've got some advise for you ladies. That philandering boyfriend of yours does not become a faithful husband because you marry him on a lucky day. No matter how much you tell yourself that.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I Know What You Are...

I'm sure you've all noticed all the arguments going on in the 24-hour news channel world about the pardon (yes I know it's not that officially, but effectively it is exactly that) that our smirker-in-chief gave to Scooter Libby. For some reason the modern media think that if they bring on one Democratic operative and one Republican operative to scream at each other for 3-1/2 minutes, that somehow resembles good journalism.

But it's what we've got right now. At least Kieth Olbermann brings on a Constitutional scholar to bash the president solo instead of having a counter argument from someone who calls him or her self a "scholar" or "fellow" from some right wing "think tank" like the Hoover Institution or the Cato Institute.

But have you seen the only argument these morons have been able to make? Someone points out that this is a horrible use of Presidential power, goes against the rule of law, a conflict of interest, cronyism at its worst, etc. One can go on and on about what is wrong with what just happened. And how does the pre-programmed right-wing talking head respond? It always starts with, "Well, Bill Clinton..."

What the hell does Bill Clinton have to do with any of this? Absolutely nothing, that's what. These people so know that they can't defend this action in any meaningful way that the only thing they can come up with is "Clinton did it too."

Republicans are such children. They actually are using the excuse that Bill Clinton did some bad things so whatever Bush does is A-OK.

"Georgie, you just stabbed Timmy in the throat with a switchblade!"
"It's OK, last year Billy pulled Suzy's hair."

Look, I'm not going to defend Clinton's ridiculous pardons at the end of his final term. Giving a pardon to a tax-evader who is a big donor or one to your own brother is not defensible. And all of the Democratic talking heads out there should stop defending them.

But it is a pointless argument that the Repubs are making. An earlier infraction by someone else does not make your idiocy acceptable. No wife in the world would accept the excuse that "it's OK because Bill did it" when she catches her husband with his dick in someone else. I'm sure some have tried.

I think the response to that excuse from the right should be the tried and true one your parents gave you when you attempted to pull that crap on them.

"If Bill jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge..."