Portland, Oregon was both a big town and a small city, and that made the move easier. On the one hand, I couldn’t wait to get the F out of the grimy little town I was from. On the other hand, I’d been in a few big cities during my travels, and while they were fun places to visit, I never wanted to live in one. Portland felt just right. Soggy maybe, but I thought I could get used to that. Plus, my older brother Nathan lived there, so I figured the transition would be a snap.
Eddie and Annie’s house of flying toasters
Nathan’s housemate Bill’s friend Eddie was crashing at Nathan and Bill’s apartment at the same time I was, having just relocated from New York. Eddie was old, 30 at least. He even smoked a joint like an old guy; he toked it, with his elbow up in the air. But he’d apparently done and seen it all, and he regaled us each night over many beers with his hilarious exploits, delivered in thick, gravelly Brooklynese. This guy was so entertaining, and that happened to be my only criterion for a housemate, being brand new to the whole independent living thing.
Eddie needed a housemate too, and after two weeks of he and I squatting their tiny living room, Nathan and Bill needed us gone. So it all worked out perfectly.
Being the one with a clue in these matters, Eddie secured us an abode. He also had a van, which meant I wouldn’t have to take my futon and footlocker on the bus. I wasn’t familiar with the bus system at all, so this was a terrific advantage.
Annie and me drove this thing across the country a couple of years ago, he growled on the way to our new digs. We fucked and fought the whole way! Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ever got a blowjob at 90 miles an hour? We get stopped by the cops in bumfuck Wyoming or someplace. I’m trying to empty the roaches out of the ashtray, shoving them under the seat. I’m completely baked, talking to the cop, ‘Sorry officer I was just playing with my girlfriend’s titty. Didn’t notice how fast I was going!’ Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Annie’ll be moving out here in two weeks.
OK, I said, struggling to process all this new information.
Our house was on 47th and Northeast Flanders Street. I learned that it was something called a “classic Portland bungalow”. That didn’t mean much to me, since most of my architectural knowledge came from Alaska, and fell under the categories of “old and crappy”, “new and crappy”, and “log”. Having been to Europe, I also knew about “super old, stone, and fuckin‘ cool”. To me, the bungalow was just a granny house with wood floors and wide mouldings around every door, wall, window, ceiling, you name it. Wherever you could put one, basically. Also there were these kind of fancy cabinets with glass and (surprise) more moulding built right into the walls in several places. Pretty cool I guess.
OK Mark, Eddie declared after we’d looked around. Annie and I will take the downstairs. You can have the attic. Your rent’s 400 a month.
Sure thing, said I, and hauled my stuff up the narrow, creaky stairs.
The attic didn’t have hardwood, mouldings or built-ins, and the walls started sloping into the ceiling about halfway up, so I could stand fully upright only in the center third of the room. But the attic matched the footprint of the whole house, so I had plenty of space, and there was even a long work table along one wall. The light wasn’t great, but other than that, I was pleased to realize I had a proper artist’s atelier. I threw down my futon, propped a painting against the wall on the end of the work table, and I was moved in.
Annie got there. She was bright, petite with straight blond hair, full of vim, vigor and vitality. We had lively dinners together in those nice weeks of fall. Like Eddie, she was a talker. She was curious. She had questions. She had comments. Annie would ask me something like, So Mark, who are you into, like Rembrandt? Dekooning? More contemporary stuff? Eddie would answer for me. He likes that photo of Mapplethorpe with the bullwhip up his butt. Ha ha ha ha! Annie would slug his arm and say, Shut up! Just because you’re into that stuff. And then they would go back and forth pecking at each other and I would enjoy the show. It was fun.
We didn’t have much furniture. Or I should say they didn’t. I didn’t have any. The house was very spartan, and when I was home I spent most of my time upstairs drawing or cavorting with Wendy. (Eddie and Annie loved Wendy.) The main feature of the living room was Eddie’s massive record collection. Eddie liked to pull out an LP at random and show it off.
Check it out Mark. Iron Butterfly. First pressing. Mint condition. Inagaddadavida, baby! If you touch my records I’ll rip your fucking head off!
Eddie had two gears. The first was loquacious and witty, and for simplicity I’ll just call the second one “rage”. He would switch between the two seamlessly like that. When the weather started getting colder I made the mistake of remarking on it. Eddie got right up in my face.
You keep your hands off the thermostat, got that? he whisper-shouted. The old house had an oil burning furnace, and apparently those cost a fortune to run. What did I know? I grew up smelling like wood smoke. I complied.
It wasn’t long before I was really missing the ol’ woodstove. Eddie’s idea of saving on heat was just don’t have any. The window in the attic iced over, and I kept myself burrowed in a polar sleeping bag at night. I couldn’t believe I’d be colder in Oregon than Alaska.
I wasn’t at home much anyway. I had classes all day downtown at PNCA, and then my friends and I would spend a few hours goofing off at the Heathman. That was an upscale but casual bakery and pub just down the street from the art school. (“Upscale but casual”, the redundant way to describe any nice place in Portland.) Alternatively, Wendy and I would cruise around town, stopping in at this or that bar or record shop to chew the fat with this or that good friend of hers that worked there. Evening would turn to night. We’d locate some beers and a place to drink them and eventually end up back at 47th and Flanders.
We were both avoiding going home. She because she lived with her mom way out in Southwest Portland, and I because it was a lot more fun hanging out with Wendy. Plus the commute on the #19 bus sucked the big one. Plus the atmosphere at home had changed considerably.
The rollicking dinner parties had stopped. I would only see Eddie or Annie in passing, with a Hey or a What’s up, but I’d hear them downstairs more and more, bickering. Battling. Things would “get broken”. I came to the kitchen one morning to find the toaster had a nice big dent in it. I was a newbie to the domestic violence scene, so I didn’t see any of it as warning signs. It was just a drag.
One afternoon in January Wendy and I pulled up to my house in time to see Eddie getting stuffed into a squad car. He was handcuffed and in hysterics, lying sideways in the back seat, bawling. He had a black eye.
Mark, Mark you gotta help me, he wailed hoarsely through the window. I didn’t do anything. Tell ‘em I didn’t do anything.
I didn’t tell ‘em anything. I was too bewildered to speak.
Turns out one of Eddie and Annie’s spats had gone into a deathmatch round. At some point Annie had ended up on the floor and kicked him in the eye. At another point he had her by the throat making dramatic threats. And then suddenly, somehow, he had the presence of mind to call the police on himself, telling them he was afraid of what he might do.
But I didn’t know any of this, so there was nothing I could do for him. The police hauled him off, and I didn’t see Eddie or Annie for a few days.
I had a few takeaways from all this.
First of all: WAY TO GO ANNIE!!! Sisters be striking back!
Second of all: way to go Eddie. I was amazed and proud of him for doing the right thing. Mid-brawl, no less.
Third of all a shocking revelation: adults can be immature, unstable fuckups. That was the most upsetting thing about the whole incident. It’s hard to describe other than to say that it made me feel really on my own. I had only been playing in a sandbox marked “independence”. There were these two adult supervisors in the background, so I had assumed. But suddenly both they and the sandbox were gone, and I realized I still had no clue, and no one to help me get one.
So fourth of all: I need to get the hell out of here. There was a place I could go immediately, this party house downtown where a couple of school friends lived. They’d let me flop there for a while.
I folded up my futon and packed my footlocker. Last to go was the painting leaning against the wall at the end of the work table. When I grabbed it I saw something I hadn’t noticed when I moved in four months earlier: an electric thermostat. Huh.
I gave it a turn. Within minutes there was a ticking sound and the smell of charred dust as the room warmed up. Electric baseboard heat. I’ll be damned. I could have been warm the whole time.