St. John's Crib
St. John’s Crib

Once we sealed the deal on our new house, the arduous process of closing up shop on our apartment immediately took over our lives. I was reminded of something I wrote 11 years ago about the act of moving (carefully retrieved and available via this handy link), and while I still feel that it is an accurate portrayal of the inherent problems involved in moving, I wanted to expand on these thoughts and connect them to the art of apartment life, and a few specific observations about our previous residence in question.

The day I began putting things in boxes was the first time I began to think about the history of the place that we had been dwelling. M and I were both living in separate places when we first met, and shortly after we began dating, she moved into the apartment that we eventually began sharing. (Pictured above.) The structure, situated in Historic St. John’s and originally built in 1961 (thanks State of Oregon Public Records), seems to have always been designed with the idea of multiple tenants living in it. (Unlike a number of other buildings in the Portland area that are retrofitted for such living arrangements.) In the time that she lived there, a variety of miscreants and unusual characters inhabited the units surrounding us. With hindsight, I can only imagine what they thought of us, as I have certainly developed some specific thoughts with regards to them.

It was almost a full year after we started dating that I moved in with M. This had more to do with the fact that I am a nervous and apprehensive about living with someone I’m dating than anything about her or the apartment she was living in. In one of the two occasions since we met where we had a major disagreement / almost fight, she adamantly insisted that I should move in with her, and I stubbornly came up with a number of reasons why I shouldn’t do so just yet. In the end, I moved in, and all of my concerns were for naught. The lesson here is that she is always right, even when my experience in the past says that I shouldn’t do something, and that I should use my better judgment and listen to her at all times with regards to all things.

While I never had to deal with the landlord much myself, he and his wife ran the complex from Gresham, and most of the work done for the complex was handled by their grown sons. Apparently, the landlord bought the complex from “an anonymous owner” in 1991 (really, State of Oregon Public Records?), and the units in that complex have never been formally advertised anywhere, except through a sign on a stake in the yard, which is how M found it. The complex is not too incredibly far from The University of Portland campus, and is a stone’s throw from the bustling epicenter of St. John’s itself.

As I understand it, St. John’s used to be a somewhat “seedy” neighborhood, by Portland standards, but in looking at the history of the neighborhood via public records, I’m not sure I can come to that same conclusion. Sure, I did not live in the area prior to the recent hip popularity of the last several years, but for a place that has been dominated by white families without kids who are between 40 and 64 (according to the last several census reviews going back to the mid ‘90’s), the seediness was most likely born out of career drunks or the (not absent) white trash that used to live here. A simple review of the police activity in the area also reveals that – for the most part – you are going to have to deal with drunk people engaging in “disorderly conduct” more than you will encounter anything dangerous of extremely violent. (While dangerous and violent things have happened, the occurrences are very rare according to public records, and the percentages so small that the relative “seediness” of the neighborhood is no higher or lower than anywhere else in the Portland area.) Outside of being drunk in public, the most common problems that are reported in the area include small cases of larceny and simple assault (no weapons), and minor cases of vandalism.

We had a rather colorful cast of characters who all played the roles of our neighbors while we lived there. One couple was very clearly either using or selling speed (probably both), and after non-payment of rent, the landlord had the contents of their apartment emptied by a pair of hired movers. Another gentleman lived in the unit next to us, who did unspecified manual labor on a regular basis. He would get incredibly drunk and put on either Bush or Toad The Wet Sprocket, which he would set on infinite repeat at a very loud volume before passing out, leaving us to ponder his musical selections as we were trying to sleep.

His garage was just beneath our “dining room,” and he kept a motorcycle in there. Regularly he would leave it running, filling our entire apartment with exhaust, in spite of us mentioning this to him. Having no tact, he would get up at 4:30 AM and loudly open his garage door, rev up the engine, and blast out of his garage on his way to work. Aside from these moments, and his inevitable return, I don’t believe he actually rode. Regularly, I would see him push the bike out of the garage, wash it, turn the engine on, stand next to it for a few minutes, then turn it off, and wheel it back into his garage. After an incident where M cursed him out in the middle of the night for pulling his Toad The Wet Sprocket stunt, he became very inhospitable until he randomly moved away, to go back to his home town because he was sick of Portland. I think the sentiment was mutual.

There was an elderly, grandparent-type couple for a while, and they kept a dog in spite of the policy against it, and were otherwise very pleasant. (When I still smoked, I would engage her on the porch with friendly chit-chat.) There was also two consecutive bike nerd people – one male, and one female – who we rarely saw. (The girl drove a car that suddenly manifested a Star Trek Federation insignia in her back window shortly after M & I put one on ours.) Another neighbor was a gentleman who would walk around with his cat on his shoulder in and around St. John’s, and brought it with him to work every day in his van, which was complete with a catbox and other accoutrements. The cat did not seem to have a problem with this, in spite of everything I know about cats. Lastly, there was a Christian woman who would hold Friday Night Bible readings in her apartment, which only became an issue one day when I was one mushrooms and saw various religious folks wandering toward my apartment.

Our life in this apartment was more or less incident free. The power went out once or twice, and was a typically drafty and difficult to heat place thanks to baseboard heat and disrepair. (Several of the heating elements simply did not work.) The most common thing we would hear was the driver / cyclist / pedestrian yelling matches that happened outside of our window. We were on the corner of a major intersection that included a bus route, a bike path, and was a primary means of getting to and from St. John’s. Several times a day, people would curse each other out, get into screaming matches, and otherwise discuss the finer points of navigating that intersection. At one point the city changed the signs, in the hopes of improvement, but the yelling remained the same. Eventually, the buses added prerecorded “pedestrian” messages when they would turn that corner, creating a wonderful cacophony of city life noises that were not entertaining, even in a musique concrete fashion.

The one and only drama that ever came up with the apartment only occurred once we decided to give written notice to our landlord. Through a stroke of luck, the landlord was on the premises when the letter had been drafted and written, and M hand-delivered the document, and talked to him about everything in person. We had arranged to leave on the 24th – 31 days after she spoke with him – and they discussed that date in person when she handed him the letter, and he agreed to it. She explained that she would mail the check as she would normally, but at a prorated amount since we would not be in the unit the entire month, to which he also agreed. Once all was said and done, we planned our entire move around this timeline, and could not have predicted that his wife would step in suddenly and become a bit of a bitch.

First, she called from a number we did not recognize, and left a message explaining that she did not recognize our 30 day notice, and that we would have to pay for the entire month regardless of what we had thought was the case previously. After some internal discussion, we decided that it would be more of a pain to try and fight this, and sent a follow-up letter in the mail with our check for the full amount, and a new letter explaining that we would be out at the end of the month, on the 30th. Then, on the 24th, the landlord’s wife called to ask why we weren’t at the apartment, ready to hand over the keys. This conversation was hilarious; yes, she cashed the check we sent her in the second letter, no she did not see or read a second letter. (The check was wrapped in it.) Eventually she conceded that it would be fine that we leave on the 30th, but this spawned a longer conversation about when we would be there so she could get the keys from us. Almost out of desperation, she gave up, and asked that we leave the keys on the kitchen counter, and leave the apartment unlocked.

All things considered, this wasn’t the end of the world. We did lose some money in the long run, and it became very clear (at the end) that our landlords were annoying in an absent-minded way, rather than anything malicious or intentional. But in a way, it was very symbolic of our ending experiences as Portlanders. We both loved living in Portland, and we did lose money as part of the decision to live her. But in the end, we were all too happy to do whatever it would take to get out, and this experience sealed the deal in terms of confirming that we were absolutely comfortable with leaving all of this behind.

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