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


Joe said...

Why didn't you ever invite your friends to come over and share in this pot-stravaganza? I would've brought at least a bag of salt-n-vinegar chips or something.

the beige one said...

I got to sit in on a couple of those sessions. I remember meeting the lesbians, at least...I think one of them worked at Ticketmaster with me.