Sunday, October 16, 2011

The pink house on Summit Avenue, late 1960s


There is a theory that every person has a psychic spot in a room. The theory works something like this: you walk around the room, sit in different places, try them out until you find the spot that feels right for you. The hippies say its vibrations. Maybe it is. I don’t think there is a word for that but I believe it. If this is true of rooms it is also true of cities, streets and houses. Eventually through trial and error we find “our” spot in the room and if we’re lucky, we find our city.

Have you ever walked past a building and got a chill up your spine? You didn’t know what it was but you knew there was something wrong with that house. You knew you didn’t want to live there though you didn’t know why. On the other hand there are houses that feel right. The pink house on Summit Avenue in Seattle was like that.

There was nothing outstanding about it. It was an old, pink house that had been converted into apartments and housekeeping rooms. Maybe it was the porch that drew me, maybe the lilacs in the yard, maybe the crumbling concrete steps leading up to it. Whatever it was the house gave me a good feeling and I moved into one of the rooms the next day.
The room I lived in looked like the room in Van Gogh’s paintings. The colors weren’t the same but it didn’t matter. It was like the “Yellow House” at Arles and I was comfortable.

It’s a good thing the landladies weren’t suspicious of their tenants for a lot of strange people lived in that house. Larry for example; a stocky college student. The kind that would read Reader’s Digest Condensed books and take speed-reading courses. Always up on the latest. The only thing wrong with him was that he used to talk to himself. No, that’s not true. He shouted to himself - mostly four-letter words on Sunday afternoons.

Then there was Demon Rum. That wasn’t her name, of course, but I called her that because she had a demon and she didn’t drink rum. Two or three nights a week she would beat on the floor with her cane and scream, “Get out! Get out!” She told me matter of factly that she had to chase the demons out periodically.

Then there was the Gleaming Torso. He was a narcissistic young man infatuated with his own body. As soon as the snow melted, he’d peel off his shirt and wander around the building and yard half-naked. He had a beautiful body but it got depressing after a while. There’s something depressing about an oiled, sunburned torso in March.

I felt nothing could go wrong in that house. Though my Dad said the building was a fire trap I knew the building would never burn down. Though I couldn’t get theft insurance in that neighborhood I knew I’d never be ripped off.

When the landlady said she had a larger apartment upstairs for the same price I jumped at it. I decided to move after I’d come home late from a party.

Have you ever moved when you were drunk in the middle of the night? Have you ever dragged bookcases up two flights of stairs at 3 o’clock in the morning? Have you ever tried to carry a tray of silverware up the stairs without a knife or fork falling out and clattering down to the bottom? By the time I finished moving I felt entitled to the place. I had worked for it and I had won it.

What can you say about an apartment that was made for you and you only? I can attempt to describe it - I could tell you that the apartment was a labyrinth of tiny, multi-colored rooms with Alice-In-Wonderland doorways and beaded curtains. I could tell you that the ceilings sloped, that there were three attics and that each attic had a round window like a port hole. I used to sit by the round windows and watch them tear the old houses down across the street, muttering four-letter words at the destroyers all the while I watched.

I could tell you that the refrigerator was green. I could tell you there was a small, faded Oriental carpet in the kitchen. I could tell you that the kitchen was like the interior of “The African Queen” and also like a cathedral. I could tell you that the windows were very tiny and rattled in the wind and that the sills were rotting and that it didn’t matter. I could tell you about the chronically damp pink rug in the bathroom and the sink that no one could fix. I could tell you that I could see Queen Ann Hill from my bedroom window, that I could lay on my tummy and look out and watch the snow fill the city until all the buildings looked like ferry boats lost in the fog.

I could tell you how the whole apartment swayed in the wind like a house in a treetop. I could tell you how I fixed it up, how everything I owned went with the place, even the print by Chagall. I could tell you about the winding staircase that lead to the apartment and that each step had a different colored rug nailed to it. I could tell you that it was like climbing Rock Candy Mountain. I could tell you how the room looked when I lit candles and listened to “Carmina Burana”, with or without a lover. I could tell you all these things and still be unable to tell you how it felt to live there.

Or I could tell you about the people. I could tell you about David and the way he’d thunder up the stairs when his drama class was over at Seattle Central Community College. I could tell you about our puppy, Louise or about that hilarious morning when Carl slept over because he got drunk and couldn’t get home on his own. We all had jobs to go to and had only slept an hour when the alarm clock rang. We stumbled around with hang-overs and Louise got hold of Carl’s socks and ran under the couch and how we all laughed because we felt so terrible and because we were friends. I could tell you more about David and how the first time I saw him he was falling off a barstool but that’s another story.

I could tell you about my dad, how he came to nail the windows shut and about the fire alarm he brought for me that could be attached to the wall. I could tell you about the man who took me away and how he hated the place at first sight. Perhaps he hated it because it was mine.

I tried to rent the apartment back from time to time. I walked by it periodically and looked up at the tiny spun-sugar windows I used to lean out of in laughter when I called to David on his way to classes and I’m pretty sure I saw the Gleaming Torso sitting on the porch a bitter day last March. The apartment I wanted back was never available again.

Update: October 16, 2011 – the pink house has been gone for many years.

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