December 31, 2003



Is this thing on?

Sprained hand of last entry turned out to be broken finger necessitating surgery. I now have a big club of bandage for a left hand, a "fashion sling" courtesy of the ER, and a pretty good war story.

Typing is difficult, so posting is expected to be light, and possibly rife with misspellings. Just wanted a short blurt to ring out 2003; despite everything, it wasn't that bad, as Chris once famously said about another year, in another place.

Posted at 10:24 AM
December 20, 2003
Two Candles

"Two Candles," by Gerhard Richter

On Thursday night I was knocked off my feet and dragged through an alley by an exceptionally stupid thief who wanted to steal my book bag, mistaking it for my purse. (Adios, digital camera.) This misfortune has left me mostly unscathed, save for a sprained hand, which is making typing impractical. So B&W is taking a holiday break. We'll be back when the swelling goes down, or the holidays are over.

Here is the image from the holiday card we sent this year. Hipsters of a certain age will recognize an iteration of it as this.

Posted at 11:59 AM
December 16, 2003

Listening to Radiohead while Christmas shopping on a cold dark night inspires a mood I like to call "peace on earth, less ill-will toward men."

So, in that spirit, I'd like to say I'm sorry:

To Mr. L'Occitane salesman, for not buying your $38/oz. hand cream. Although I did make up for it by shelling out $25 on fancy soaps for my mom. If that's not dedication, what is? (Hope you're not reading this, mom! Or, if you are, Merry Christmas!)

To the crazy woman in the subway station. I never should have put my packages down next to you, but to be fair you didn't seem crazy until you started talking to me. I couldn't hear all of what you were saying, but it seems to me that many "motherfuckingshit"s do not appear in a friendly conversation with strangers. Perhaps I appeared rude when I inched away, but everyone has their limits.

To the young dude with the headscarf: I did not mean to bash you with my packages. I should have bashed that other guy with the swinging bag, taking up too much room in the doorway. He looked like a stockbroker; perhaps you and I could have started a class war.

To the woman in the green hat, scarf, leather coat, gloves, long red skirt, and pants. I should have tried to do something, it's too much to even let a stranger go out dressed like that.

I guess we have a way to go before "peace on earth and mercy mild," but hey, I'm trying.

Posted at 07:14 PM
December 15, 2003
Can You Repeat That?

Not being a newspaper reporter, I rarely ever got "reporting assignments." SO I don't have one to share. But it's worth checking out "cringe-inducing assignment" letters to Romenesko at the Poynter Institute's online forum. Here's one in which a reporter is sent to interview some nice old senior citizens about sex and seniors:

Having difficulty summoning the courage to ask these nice people, flat-out, if they still performed the horizontal mambo, I tried every contortion I could think of that might elicit an answer to THE question.

Me: "So, do you think young marrieds today put too much emphasis on sex?''

Them: "Yes.''

Me: "Well, do you think sex is the answer to a long-term marriage?''

Them: "No.''

Me: "What do you think is the answer?''

Them: "What was the question?''

I never did summon the nerve to ask the sex question, robbing my editor, whose fetishistic interest in the subject had grown worrisome, of the information he craved.

Posted at 07:27 PM
December 10, 2003
After 2001, What?

When we moved to our current place, we brought up some large, simply designed, impressively modern pieces of furniture from E.’s parents’ house. They made my threadbare couch and inherited easy chairs look like the work of decorating amateurs. I realized that we would have to approach decoration in a more serious way than the previous places had required.

Feeling out of my depth, I started reading home decorating magazines. So far, they’ve been no help. They’re fun to read, but for the most part they remain impractical—impossible fantasies packaged for consumption--nothing really to do with my life.

Whatever the “before and after” pictures look like, they’re not as interesting as the real stories of what happens in the places where people live. By nature of living here, we will impose our tastes and styles on this place, but it will shape our experience, too—and that is the process that interests me.

Two years later, it’s still too early to write the history of our current home. We’re learning the vicissitudes of home ownership, including property taxes, insurance costs, and the perpetual aggravation of having to maintain an old building. As for the future, I can only hope for good things.

And that’s what we all do: we hope. We make big plans. We see potential. We wonder if we shouldn’t just move somewhere else entirely. But for the moment, this is where we are.

Back by popular demand: The cats.

Molly (front) and Kitty ponder what it all means, when really, a sunny window sill is all you need.

Posted at 06:44 PM
December 09, 2003
1998-2001: North D. Avenue

We moved, but we hadn’t gone far. We’d taken the first place we’d looked at—a cozy little two-bedroom a block and a half away on a main street. It was smaller than our old place, but it felt solid; large, light friendly windows facing the street, a cute, small kitchen, a charming built-in hutch. Since it was a two-bedroom, I could no longer have an office; my things went into storage. But in my haste to get away from the old place, where I no longer felt safe, this seemed a small price to pay.

We were also pleased to meet our new downstairs neighbors, an elderly couple named Mr. and Mrs. R. She was sunny and sweet and, on occasion, shared brownies with us. He was quiet and seemed friendly, but confused; we later learned he had Alzheimer’s. The year of our wedding, she made us a Christmas ornament, with a lovely note wishing us many years of happiness.

We would see them waiting for the bus or walking to the store, she patiently helping him across the street, talking to him all the while. When they moved around the corner to a first-floor apartment, we missed them. They had lived in the same place for 40 years, it turned out; the place was renovated and some career girls moved in.

Party like it's 1999: Kitty guards the chocolate-covered strawberries.

In this apartment I felt safe and it seemed peaceful, although we heard plenty of street noise. I read E.B. White’s letters there in the summer and worked at home watching the snow fall. Sick with the strep throat, I tottered unsteadily from the bedroom to the kitchen to eat tomato soup. And when we installed a window air conditioner and a Tivo in the front room, the front room became the place to idle the summer away.

Convenient to public transit, with city bus route outside your door. Literally.

It was a good thing I felt safe because it was a busy time. Two days after we moved in, Grumpy Sean arrived and spent the summer sleeping on an air mattress on the floor. We saw him between attending various friends’ weddings across the country this summer and planning our own. To that apartment that same September we dragged bags of wedding gifts home and sat, dazed, awash in ribbons and pastel and good wishes.

Not all of the events were happy, though; in that apartment on a cold dark morning not two months later, I got the call that E.’s mother had died in Indiana. And it was there we returned after the funeral, with a mourning candle that I didn’t want to burn 24 hours a day for fear we’d burn the place down.

We chose the apartment as an emergency measure and ended up staying for three years. During that time, I started to miss having an office. I missed my things. And as we sorted out E.’s family belongings it became clear that our apartment wasn’t going to accommodate them all. After some study we decided to condo hunt. In March 2001 I started interviewing realtors.

The last party we had in the apartment was at the end of that month. It was a joint birthday party for me and another friend. We’d had some great parties there, the kind where people stay late and end up collapsed on the couch in the wee hours, eating leftovers and talking about what happened. That party was no exception, a mix of computer types and music hipsters. The next day we made an offer on a place and in two months we were out of there.

The last thing remaining in the apartment was our old entertainment center. After nine years, its particle board had not aged well and it was bowed and taped together. It had gone from house to house with us and now, in order for us to leave, it required an act of violence. We wrenched it apart and left it in pieces in the alley and moved on.

What happened after: I received a letter from Mrs. R. saying that her husband had died. I sent her a condolence note but, to my regret, we’ve lost track of her.

Next: Fin.

Posted at 07:26 PM
December 08, 2003
1998: North S. Ave., Part 2

I ran through the house and did a quick check. TV, computer, and stereo all remained, but my jewelry was gone. The cats, against all odds, had not run away but had hidden under the couch; they emerged within seconds, mute witnesses to whatever had happened.

Hyperventilating, I ran downstairs and knocked on the neighbors’ door and told them we had been robbed. They scratched their heads in puzzlement and looked around. They realized that they had been robbed, too—but, unbelievably, they hadn’t noticed.

We waited for hours for the police to come. When they finally did, I suggested that they might eventually recover the diamond studs I’d gotten for my sixteenth birthday, the amber necklace I always got compliments on, and every earring I’d ever bought since 1980. They smiled kindly, but we all knew that it was never going to happen.

As luck would have it, E.’s mother was in the hospital in Indiana at the time. So he went home that weekend and I barricaded myself with boxes of records behind our broken door, calculating my losses. I had lost my grandmother’s jewelry, a jar of quarters (for laundry), and so on. My stuff was insured, but my sense of safety was irreplaceable.

Squirrelly John came and viewed the devastation, like a politician visiting the site of a flood. But he never fixed the broken door; E. screwed a piece of wood over the broken bottom panel and there it remained. The next weekend we went apartment hunting.

In May, we moved out. E.’s mother was still sick and so I was left to pack the apartment. I mapped out a strategy like the Allies landing at Normandy and enlisted my friend J. to do some heavy lifting and morale boosting.

One afternoon during that week, after J. had gone home, I walked into the kitchen to continue packing and found a baby squirrel clinging to the inside of the kitchen window screen. It had crawled in via a small hole, only a couple of inches in circumference, in the screen of the kitchen window (which, like many things in that apartment, had never been fixed). It was looking fearfully at our Himalayan cat sitting on the window sill.

The cat was (typically) unfazed but I, stressed-out and exhausted, was plenty fazed. With visions of rabies shots dancing in my head, I threw the Himalayan in the bedroom and closed the kitchen door. Then we faced off in the sunset, the squirrel and I, two terrified creatures in an overheated kitchen.

Nobody moved.

A city girl, I didn’t know what to do next. I had expected the squirrel to run amok, but nothing was happening. It seemed to me that someone with a net would be helpful. I grabbed the phone and called the animal control department, which was (of course) closed. Next I called J. at home. He probably didn’t have a net, but he was that week’s talisman to keep bad things at bay.

“What do I do if a squirrel is in the kitchen?”

J., who had just spent two days packing my house, was no doubt somewhat weary of my problems. I heard him give a long sigh.

“Squirrel in the kitchen,” he repeated. A pause. “Well, why don’t you just open the back door and chase him out with a broom?”

By the time I had found the broom and opened the screen door, the squirrel had gotten out through the hole in the window screen. So he got out the same way he had gotten in. A few days later, we got out the same way we had gotten in, too.

Not the squirrel in question.

What happened after: A couple of years after we moved away, Squirrelly John sold the house (no doubt at a healthy profit). It has since been turned into a painted lady in a neighborhood that is virtually unrecognizable now. Three years after we moved out, we heard that one of our first neighbors, S., had died in a bicycle accident. This news slammed shut a window on that era.

Next: One block east.

Posted at 07:35 PM
December 06, 2003
1995-98: North. S. Avenue and the House of Squirrelly John, Part 1

We thought we knew all about living in Chicago. We’d visited our friends there for years. And, with a few exceptions, most of them had lived in reasonably nice places—friendly neighborhoods like Lakeview and Wrigleyville. We were familiar with the shotgun layout, the two-flat, the neighborhoods. So when we picked out the N.S. Avenue apartment, we thought we were all set. It was, the mendacious rental agent assured us, in the last stages of renovation, but the landlord would have that finished by the time we moved in. For whatever reason, we believed him.

It was never finished, but we lived there anyway for three years.

Don't be fooled by the attractive exterior. Run away!

Our landlord, Squirrelly John, was an apparently overwhelmed man who lived in the 847 area code. He never got around to finishing the molding, covering the holes cut in the hallway wall for ventilation, and so on. He never offered an explanation for his bizarre renovation choices, such as the odd narrow passage behind the bedroom that was to pass for a closet, or the two lights stuck awkwardly to the wall in the bedroom, uncomfortably high above the bed. But the place had many nice features. It had three bedrooms and was located on a tree-lined street in a quiet neighborhood. E. and I could both have our own offices and there was room to spare for friends to stay. There was even a back yard (uncultivated, alas) where we could cook outside.

The building was a two-flat and we had, over the years, an array of downstairs neighbors. A week or so after we moved in, I was sitting on the front porch when two young men appeared. They were S. and A. and it turned out they were from Bloomington and knew some of our friends; this helped us all feel more at home. They had NeXT computers and the Smiths wailed from behind their door when we would come home at night; one night they had a party and we caught them and their guests doing the bunny hop.

After a while S. and A. moved out and an older single guy moved in; he seemed friendly enough, but I was kept awake nights by the throbbing bass that reverberated upstairs from his apartment. After a while he was replaced by two hooting frat boys and their foosball table. We disliked them at first, but eventually we all developed a survivors’ camaraderie.

In that apartment I learned the nature of living in Chicago. We arrived in the summer of 1995, when hundreds of people in the city died in a heat wave. As a result, I made E. buy our first air conditioner, a window unit that we wheeled over on a dolly borrowed from the appliance store across the street. One autumn night winter blew in with a vengeance and I lay awake listening to the rattly green fiberglass that held the porch together bang against the wall. In the morning, the friendly voice of the radio surprised me; I had expected the house to blow down. And in the winter, long cold dark nights forced me, finally, to learn how to cook.

It wasn’t all bad, though; we learned how to have parties. Our first party was a housewarming in November 1995, centered on E.’s famous chili. The success of this event inspired us to birthday parties, Christmas parties, and so on. We started hosting the family Christmas and that year my mother came to visit me for the first time in four years.

Because of the light, the roominess, the location, and the price, we swallowed our misgivings and stayed there longer than we should have. Over the years we learned to grow accustomed to the wrong things. We learned to live with lines of dripping brown goo that oozed down the chimney and down the wall by one of the air ducts, staining the walls and leaving a perpetual small puddle in the hallway.

We coped with the way the dampness wreaked havoc on the bathroom wall and made the paint there peel away in strange, bubbling patterns. The dripping was worst in the winter, when snow melted on the roof. In the summer there was mold. Scrubbing the walls, we called Squirrelly John often. He often promised the leak had been fixed, but it never was.

But still we were reluctant to leave. And so it came as a rude shock one Friday morning in 1998 when the carbon monoxide detector started to beep almost inaudibly. The manual said “call the fire department,” so we did, and within minutes there were five or six firemen in our apartment, throwing windows open and running downstairs to bang on the neighbors’ door. (S. and A. were long gone and the foosball guys had moved in.) “Lucky we woke him,” said one fireman with grim good humor. “That guy coulda woke up dead!”

We learned that the water heater in the basement had exploded, and a rag stuffed in (to “fix”) a gap in a duct in the basement had gotten wet and had caused exhaust to reroute through the house. We had been about to leave for the weekend, so if we hadn’t noticed the detector beeping, the neighbor and our cats might have been gassed. It was a chilling scenario.

So we decided to leave in the spring. And then came the sucker punch: A month later, on Valentine’s Day, we came home one night to find our door kicked in and our apartment ransacked.

Next: Woke up this morning, got myself a broom.

Posted at 08:23 AM
December 03, 2003
1991-95: East S. Avenue and Local Wildlife

The house on S. Avenue was a three-bedroom bungalow just down the road from my old apartment on H. Street. It had a number of idiosyncrasies, including bad décor, like the burnt-orange carpeting one room inexplicably covered in dark brown paneling. The bathtub had been painted white, and the paint was always peeling, which was unsightly. And the bathroom wall under the sink was mysteriously decaying, which was unnerving.

Warning: Oddities may be closer than they appear.

Nonetheless, it was the first place I lived in with E. and I mopped the slightly bowed hardwood floors with zeal, willing it to turn into a dream home. Enthusiasm was my only resource as I tried to figure out what it meant to set up housekeeping. While friends and neighbors frequently stopped by, our families never did. Back in my hometown, my parents were boycotting the house as a form of protest about our unwedded state; my mother swore to never set foot in it. Meanwhile, E.’s family had its own problems; his mother was ill and his father had cancer (and would die within two months of our move to S. Avenue). We were on our own, and this gave the house a dislocating Peter Pan quality; hardly anyone over 30 ever came over.

If they had, they wouldn’t have had anywhere to sit, at least at first. We had no furniture, period. I started dumpster diving, thrift shopping, and haunting university auctions for cheap furniture. One find, a scratchy, mustard-yellow couch with a rollaway bed, was short-lived (and I belatedly apologize to all the friends who were forced to sleep on it). Others, like the creaky old rocking chair and the coffee table I dumpstered and painted (for reasons unknown) salmon pink are still with us.

We liked our landlord, Mr. D., a folksy old guy who drove a rattly old pickup, because he made our home possible. Other presences were less benign; once during the first few months, I caught a shady-looking guy peeping into our bedroom window. In panic, I borrowed a baseball bat from P., which I kept under the bed in case the peeper ever came back. (He never did, but I still have the bat.)

Except for that guy, our neighbors were a picturesque set. To the left of us, early on there was neighbor Pete, a friendly guy who painted “Battlescar Prophylactica” on his beater car and graciously helped me carry home dumpstered furniture without comment. On the other side was the “House of Surly,” a dark dilapidated place inhabited by surly looking (but reasonably friendly) metalheads. They moved on and were replaced by various alternative types, including, in our final year there, a young woman took up playing electric guitar on the porch at night. I fumed, but E., always reasonable, patiently went over there for a calm discussion about “ambient noise.”

Ambient noise wasn’t our only problem. One early morning I came into the living room to find the cats playing boredly with something on the floor. The toy turned out to be a barely living, exhausted mouse, which lay panting on the floor while the cats filed their nails. Anxious to do something, I jumped up on a kitchen chair and yelled for E. He scooped it up and put it outside on the three-foot-square lawn in front of the house.

We were hoping it would run away, but I saw it lying there when I left for work a little later. Maybe it’s just resting, I told myself. I never found out for sure, because the landlord came round with a lawn mower that day and that was the end of that.

Other guests, though, were welcome. We were fond of dinner parties, cooked using the least practical cookbook twentysomethings could own, The Silver Palate Good Times. Other popular dishes included E.’s Texas chili and ordered-in tacos, with “Potato Oles” for those with sodium deficiencies.

Guests liked to sit outside on our front porch. I also remember the porch fondly, but these days I am nostalgic for the driveway, which we’ve never had since. Our driveway came to be occupied by E.’s 30-year-old MG convertible, which didn’t actually run. In turn, it was eventually occupied by an opossum, which I nicknamed Elmo.

Elmo’s removal necessitated a live trap. The first night we caught a luckless neighborhood cat. The second night we ostensibly caught Elmo, whom we drove out to the country and set free. This was quite an achievement, but we had not caught the right possum. Returning home, we found the original Elmo, still living in the car; eventually he, too, was caught and relocated. There’s a lovely picture of Chris and a caged Elmo on one of these outings.

Chris loads up the car with Elmo, lower left.

By 1995, I, too, was feeling caged. Finding challenging career opportunities was becoming more difficult and I was starting to tire of the lack of privacy a small town affords. Our friends were having a much more exciting time, it seemed to me, in big cities like Chicago, New York, or Seattle. Moving away had seemed impossible five years before, but now it seemed like the next logical step.

By that summer, we were ready to go. Regretfully I took down all the clippings and cleaned out the closets. To this day, I still have a soft spot for the S. Avenue house. It was the first place where we had a vision of what it would be like to be grown up. And for all its peeling paint and oddities, it had a lot of charm. Before I left, I mopped the floor one more time.

Cats stalk through the bedroom on East S. Ave. Also notable are the fuzzy pink slippers, shaped like pigs!

What happened after: The house is still there, albeit a little more down at the heels. Recently we noticed that it now has central air conditioning, which would have been the height of luxury during our tenure. The House of Surly has since been renovated.

Next: House of Squirrelly John.

Posted at 07:40 PM
December 02, 2003
1989-91: South H. Street and the Concrete Block Apartment

I moved into an efficiency apartment on the other side of downtown, on H. Street. It was a two-story structure at the foot of a larger, more elaborate apartment building that we cheerfully called “The Big House” while mine was known as “The Slave Quarters.”

My apartment, on the second floor, faced the brick wall of The Big House. As a result, it was twilight in there all of the time. (This was also the era in which E. played Michael Furey, rumors have it.) I was unhappy about the lack of light, but otherwise I made the best of it, buying bright Indian-print throws for the furniture and covering every inch of the concrete block walls with posters, flyers, and pictures ripped from art magazines. The apartment had a small galley kitchen and an even smaller closet. Smallest of all was the water heater, which posed a problem when friends came to visit for the weekend and wanted to take a shower.

Despite the setbacks, I was happy to be there. I was glad to have a place where I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I could eat whatever I wanted as well; my repertoire expanded to include pasta salad dressed with Wishbone Italian salad dressing. I was brought up short, however, when a frozen pizza fell face down into the oven. Two pairs of rubber gloves and a can of Easy Off later, I had learned the virtues of being careful.

I did get to know my neighbors, to varying degrees. A friend from the dorm lived downstairs and kept me posted on peoples’ comings and goings—such as her neighbor, the music major who slept under his harpsichord.

Most memorable of them all was Unhappy Girl, a pudgy, choleric young woman who constantly fought with her boyfriend. One day, after overhearing a long, shriek-filled argument, a friend and I came outside and found a smoldering stuffed animal lying on the front steps, blackened. Evidently one of the loveless pair had decided to leave it as a ”gesture.” To everyone’s relief, Unhappy Girl moved out soon after.

To be fair, she wasn’t the only unhappy girl in the building. That year, as my college career wound down, I tried to decide what to do next. (See the BOT series for more on this era.) This angst, in addition to too much smoking and general unhealthiness, contributed to a winter of chronic bronchitis. Ironically, my parents turned up at Christmas with a TV set, and I even more ironically sprang for cable. I was flattened and voiceless from bouts of coughing, but at least I could watch American Movie Classics.

When I graduated in May 1990 I had no job and no real plan for the future, except to stay in town and hang with the hipsters. The only thing in my favor on that cold rainy graduation day was that I also had the key to a new apartment in my pocket. I was moving across the hall to an apartment with an actual view and actual daylight. The day after graduation, while my peers polished their resumes, I dragged my belongings down the hall to a new home.

Few pictures of H. Street remain (it was unphotogenic, to say the least), but here's one circa 1991. The Galaxie 500, Joy Division, and Tiny Lights posters were required music geek paraphernalia, as was the scratchy, too-big vintage lace dress that passed for college-to-work transition wardrobe. As far as fashion choices go, I can't explain the glasses.

A few anxious months later, I got a job. Because the H. Street place was so cheap, I lived there for another year and after a while so did E. unofficially. By spring 1991 we were looking for a place of our own. We found it right down the street.

What happened after: The H. Street building is still there. Its windows have been replaced, but otherwise it continues to look as spartan and uninviting as the day I moved in.

Next: House of Surly, House of Swirly.

Posted at 07:37 PM
December 01, 2003
1988-89: East E. Street and the House of Disillusion

During the first few years of college, I shuttled back and forth between various dorms. My first foray out of the dorms took place in 1988, in an apartment building on East E. Street.

My friends and I had decided to move out of the dorms and live “downtown” such as it was. That spring, after we didn’t get the place at Sixth and Grant, we opted for a 3BR not far away. It was, we later found out, run by a local management company with a slumlord reputation, but at the time we felt very grown up and proud of ourselves for having arranged it.

We moved in on a steamy hot August day, accompanied by various family members. It was like some parental circus. The previous occupants, guys we’d known from the dorm, had left layers of grime and empty bottles throughout the place, which threw our mothers into fits. At one point I walked past the bathroom and was startled to see J.’s mother in there, on her knees, scrubbing the floor.

It was just as well. We’d been promised, and naively expected to see, a “cleaning crew” which never materialized, despite repeated calls to the management company’s answering machine. Two days later, a little old lady who spoke no English showed up and cleaned the oven. Disillusionment began there.

More followed when I realized that living in the apartment was not going to be anything like my merry life in the dorm. Instead of being surrounded by our friends, we were surrounded by anonymous neighbors and J.’s boyfriend, who was rooming at the time with one of my ex-boyfriends. Mr. Ex and I would not speak to each other for a number of years after that, so “The Situation,” as it came to be known, was very awkward. Parties were tension-filled affairs, for example, with someone usually ending up angry. Visits from out-of-town friends and new friends were welcomed, but they did little to mitigate the overall social queasiness.

I coped by disappearing into class, into work, and into outside relationships with what would become the BOT group.

In addition, I'd made an appalling realization: I’d have to cook my own food. Although I’d learned how to make a few impractical things (dill potatoes, chocolate mousse) at home, I’d grown used to having dorm food appear magically, whether I wanted it or not.

What, how, and when to eat became a constant problem. I had to shop, cook, and clean up and, oh yes, pay for it myself. Default meals involved tuna fish, peanut butter, or rice, or something frozen and microwaveable (I loved the peppered steak with rice.)

No doubt my roommates were experiencing similar problems, but we weren’t really communicating by that point. The only thing we all agreed on was that we should get a cat, and so J. adopted one. He was defiantly un-cuddly and even at times unfriendly--all around, not what I’d expected a pet to be. I earned daily scratches trying to play with him. But he didn’t seem to care that he failed to live up to my expectations and, in his way, his prickly presence did give a certain commonality to the house.

Cat in fighting posture; not an uncommon sight on E. Street.

Summer came and my roommates got a TV, which they spent (it seemed to me) an inordinate of time watching. I hadn’t watched any TV since about 1985 and there seemed no reason to start now. My position might have been a little extreme, but even visiting friends commented on my roommates’ devotion to the tube. So when I took two jobs and started working very late at the school paper, my absence was hardly noticed. When I finally got a place of my own, it was a relief. When I moved out in August 1989, it felt like I was finally going home.

What happened after: My roommates stayed on E. Street another year; I can’t remember who they found to take my place. After I left, relations between us actually improved.

Next: Post-collegiate slump and the smoldering bunny.

Posted at 08:03 PM
Places I’ve Lived: A Series

Paint a different color on your front door
And tomorrow we may still be there

When I was younger, I believed that where you live is important as how you live. For me, the two were related. One was going to be happier in some places than in others, I reasoned, so it was important to choose carefully.

This was partly a reaction to what I saw my journalism school colleagues doing after college. Many took the first bus to wherever they could get a job, to terrible-sounding cities in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t want to do this, because I wanted to choose where I lived. So I resisted, or maybe never heard, whatever call they were hearing.

I was lucky; I got to stay in the town of my choice. But what I didn’t realize was that it would be the first in a long series of choices. Looking back at the places I’ve lived, the process of making the choices interests me now—as well as the expectations, the hopes, and the realities I inevitably had to live with.

In writing this series I’ve looked back at the places I’ve lived—favorite things, favorite memories, how I got there, why I left. And, since one choice inevitably led to another, I’ve tried to understand, in each case, what happened after.

The stories start when I was in college; they don’t include the house where I grew up. The reasons why I came to that house and left it were decisions made by other people; they didn’t have anything to do with me. That’s not to say there aren’t any stories from those 18 years, but they don’t fit within the scheme of this narrative; they’re stories for another time.

Posted at 08:01 PM