Sunday, July 27, 2014

Urban lifestyle double-down

Living room
If anyone (including we) had any doubts, our recent change of residence ought to about kill them off: Maty and I are city folk.

Our new residence, an ultramodern, wired-in, and energy-efficient condominium situated on SE 50th Avenue between Division and Powell, is even more urban than was our old vintage house in the Hawthorne district. It's a brand new construction; we and our neighbors in the other eleven units that together comprise the Richmond Heights condominims, are the first residents.

It feels great to live in a place where everything is modern and works correctly.

Kitchen. The doorway on the right leads to a half-bath.
We're not fully setup yet. We still lack blinds. So there's a certain fishbowl quality to our current state of existence. We're still awaiting the weeks-out delivery of some of our furniture. The AC unit has not yet been installed (quite a burden in these dog days of summer) and the garage situation is a long term project. But the kitchen is fully functional, the new "smart" teevees are on the wifi, and our new gas grill is assembled and functioning from its place on the balcony.

Master bedroom
We've condensed from about 2300 square feet in the old house to 1450 square feet in our new unit. In making the transition, we had to shed a lot of stuff. Books, lamps, old furniture, and various other household items found their way to the Good Will, the recycling center, or as a last resort, the landfill. And what a pleasant catharsis to rid ourselves of so much! 

But despite the smaller size, we have three bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms. It's a townhouse layout, with garage, bedroom and bathroom on the bottom floor, kitchen/living area/balcony on the main floor, and two bedrooms, two bathrooms, walk-in closets and laundry facility on the top floor.

Master bathroom. Note the stand-up shower, jacuzzi bath, and dual sinks!
Downstairs bedroom

Downstairs bathroom


Office bathroom
To add to the good news: our financial situation is moderately better as a result of the move. And since we're living in a brand new place rather than a 103-year-old house, less of our income will be spent maintaining our residence, freeing up resources for travel and other interests.

All the stress and anxiety we suffered over the past several months seems to have paid off.

Our new place already feels like home. And we both love it.

Blessings to all!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book review: Maribou Stork Nightmares

Sometimes, in order to hook into a novel or some other work of art, you need to broaden your perspective. That's a big advantage to participating in a book group. In the last four years or so, the lads and I have read 36 books together. And more than once, after discussing a particular book at our semi-regular meetings, I've come away with a changed impression of the work. Indeed, books that I hadn't thought I'd liked all that much gain a new appreciation as a result of the widened perspective.

So it is with Irvine Welsh's Marabou Stork Nightmares. When first I finished the book, which is a sordid story of gritty, nasty Scotland (with a bit of apartheid South Africa thrown in), I was pretty much disgusted.

Welsh's claim to fame is his authorship of the novel Trainspotting which was adapted into a smash hit flick by Danny Boyle. And while I enjoyed Trainspotting, the film, I felt at first that Marabou Stork Nightmares transcended the bounds of good taste with its ugly descriptions of life in the Scottish tenements, with the casual brutality of its principle characters, and with its excessive use of profanity. (Picking 3 pages at random I count 9 uses of the words "fuck," "shit," and "cunt.")

Further, Welsh's prose alternates between "regular" English and a Scottish-phonetic invention of his own that, at first, was interesting, but quickly became annoying. Example: "They were scruffy cunts glad to be let intae some cunt's hoose even if it wis the Strangs." Or: "He'd just come back tae the scheme n aw; tae stey wi his auld man eftir being in Moredun wi his auntie." Imagine wading through pages of that!

The novel, by the by, is the story of the Strang family, a working class and highly dysfunctional gang of neer-do-well Scots rising like scum to the top of the slop bucket that is blue-collar Scotland --at least as Welsh describes it. The story is told from the perspective of Roy Strang, a computer programmer and street ruffian who, at the time of the story, exists in a coma-induced dream state, from which he recounts the events of his life that led him to his current situation.

Mary Poppins, it ain't. Nonetheless, as my book-reading pals pointed out, there is a larger theme at work in this rough-cut novel. Redemption, regardless of how it is attained, is still an admirable achievement. Cruelty and barbarous acts are generally the downstream symptoms of some evil that has gone before. I doubt I would have noticed these lessons if I'd read the book by myself, without the benefit of the perspectives of Mssrs. Kemmerer, Johnson, Insera, and Kidwell.

All in all, I wouldn't say Maribou Stork Nightmares is a must-read. Not by any means. But it's not a waste of time, either.

Like I said, it's good to be in a book group.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Goodbye, old house

So long, old house.
Typing this while Maty nestles down for the evening. She's been packing all day and she's exhausted. I'll join her shortly. The electric fan is droning away against the humidity, but it is much better than last night. Our new place will have central air.

It's our last night in the house on Southeast 36th. Tomorrow, we change residence. This old house is a great old house. But just like old people, old houses need more and more help to keep going. It's time for us to part ways.

Allow me a little nostalgia, will you? I've been nearly 15 years at this address. No other home has come close.
More blueberries than ever before
The blueberry shrubs I planted about 10 years ago have not been very productive. At least until this year. Our biggest shrub produced several pints of big, fat berries. And there are more coming. The new folks, the folks who bought our home will get to enjoy them, I hope. 

The canebrake of raspberries continues to thrive. A bumper crop came in mid-June, and then disappeared quickly. It was a short season, but a heavy one. To think that the entire bramble came from just two stocks that a coworker gave me in 2000. Fifteen years later, they've spread to the neighbor's yard. I view them as my endowment to the neighborhood.

Family gathering, 2013
Between Maty and me and the ten roommates who've come through, we've filled this house up with many good memories. It's sad to leave them.

And it's really sad to say goodbye to our good neighbors. Fifteen years of three to five minute conversations add up. You come to like the easy feeling you get from knowing everyone around you.

Maty's new kitchen, 2012
This afternoon, I made a last quick trip to Freddie's to get Maty some mango juice. I walked past the waffle window, where folks were lined up for waffles. The tables outside the Baghdad were full of young people enjoying the aftermath of the brief thunderstorm earlier in the day. I ruminated on the thought that I'd made that walk maybe 5000 times over the years. And this was the last.

As recently as 4 months ago, I'd imagined that I might stay at this house through my someday retirement. Funny how things can change so fast.

But I've got a lot of memories that I'll be sorting through well past my retirement. Memories about this house on 36th Avenue in southeast Portland. And about the young man who came there in 1999, hopeful and fresh from a vision-quest tour of Europe, firm in his convictions and his optimism. And about how he changed over the years. And about how he found the woman that would save him.

So long, old house. So long, old neighborhood. So long, old life.


Monthly family dinner, 2010

Jabañero peppers grown in pots on the back deck in that summer to beat all summers, 2009
Neighborhood block party, 2010

Maty comes to the house, 2006
Mahatma Candy, hanging out in the stairwell, 2001
Hannah (front) and Roxanne (rest in peace, girls), hangin' in the office chair, 2003

Gathering friends to join the great war protest of March 15, 2003

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Ugly Americans terrifying children

These days, you won't have to strain your eyes to see examples of the ugliness of nativism and xenophobia here in these United States.

Yesterday, the world was treated to an ugly display when a mob of angry and misguided people in California blocked a bus carrying women and children (many of them toddlers or infants) from reaching Murrieta Border Patrol station near San Diego.

The would-be immigrants are part of the wave of women and children who, according to reports, have been lured by coyote people-smugglers on a perilous journey from their homes in Central America to our southern border. Coyotes prey on desperate families, convincing them to pay to have their children taken from their homelands (Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala) --where murder and crime rates are through the roof --to the US, which still holds the allure of a golden land of promise. Reports say that the children, when deposited, simply sit and wait for the US Border Patrol to find them and take them into custody.

This seems to be a new phenomenon. So many of these misled and desperate people have appeared on the border that they've overwhelmed detention facilities in Texas and Arizona. Unspecified authorities believe that some 50 to 80 thousand unaccompanied minors will be deposited throughout the year.

It's a full-blown humanitarian crisis. (And, yes, crises like these happen here, too. Not just in Africa and Asia.) In an attempt to deal with the flood of refugees, authorities arranged for buses to take the overflow from the aforementioned border states to a facility in California there to await their day in court.

But, of course, our nation's ample supply of xenophobes, with their ignorant slogans and their misguided apoplexy, felt they needed to get involved. A swarm of them met the buses on the roadway, blocking their progress, screaming and waving signs. The buses were turned around and their passengers taken to another undisclosed location.

I wonder if the bigots have enough self-awareness to understand how their behavior is perceived.

The frightened passengers on those buses, having  just been through the harrowing ordeal of leaving a dangerous home and crossing an inhospitable desert, are no doubt confused and frightened by these frothing bigots. The rest of us --you know, those of us who might have empathy for the kids --are sadly not surprised. (Well, I'm not surprised, anyway.)

Immigration law, of course, provides that these refugees --these mostly children and young mothers --be afforded due process. The law states that each case is judged individually. But that doesn't matter to the bigots. To them, the Constitution is a cudgel to wield when it works in their favor; an ignorable nuisance when it gets in the way of their hatred.

I find it all disgusting and shameful. When I think about those kids on the buses it hurts my heart. These displays of bigotry leave scars that stay with you for life. I've seen it first-hand.

Ugly, I tell you. Ugly.