Rendered Fat Content


Ohara Koson: Cat and Bowl of Goldfish (1933)
"We didn't find home lurking there, either …"

Though I lived almost half of my life in this SouthEast Portland, Oregon neighborhood, I always felt afraid here. When my first wife and I arrived in late 1975, fresh from a couple of years living in a small city in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Portland seemed huge and threatening. We found a small apartment on a major thoroughfare, just across the street from a massage parlor and on a major bus route, and settled in as if surrounded by an unseen but ever-present enemy. My wife's parents had lived in a tiny garden apartment just around the corner when they were first starting out, so I suppose that we might have found some sense of home here, but we never did. It didn't help that my wife had taken a job in a hospital that she didn't like or that I was trying to break into an unfamiliar music scene. I then still fancied myself a single acoustic performing artist. I was good at what I did, but disco threatened. I was teetering on the decision to enroll in the local state university and get out of the business, working casual labor jobs in the warehouses surrounding our apartment. I let go of a defining dream in this neighborhood.

I return now because my son and grandkids live in essentially the same neighborhood, a dozen or so blocks from that first apartment, in an apartment of their own.
Their neighborhood, too, seems threatening, now overrun with homeless encampments and gentrifying construction, it seems the same place only ever more so. It strangely feels like home to me, that familiar wary sensation accompanies me as I walk down a street or search almost in vain for a place to park, the eternal anonymous stranger feeling right at HomeAwayFrom. By the time my first wife and I had finally somehow crawled up and out of these flats, our marriage was just about quits. I moved back down into this once industrial area where I sat in my tiny apartment and listened to jazz on the radio and watched lights blink on the tall towers across the Willamette. I didn't go out much at night.

I return like a dog salmon, determined to follow a familiar scent even if finding it might do me in. I know the shortcuts between places, those places that still exist, for living long and prospering ultimately means confirming entropy's dominion over almost everything once familiar. Things do, indeed, fall apart all by themselves and never fall back together again, even with considerable assistance. The world remains in constant motion, not merely spinning, but unfolding, always different. If one revisits even on a monthly basis, one cannot help but notice that nobody's in charge of much. We're chasing our existence here, one step ahead or behind it, home a distant instinct, safe, an intermittently reassuring fiction. We might by all rights be afraid and choose not to go out much after dark.

I consider it ironic that I came to promote ProjectCommunity and taught workshops intending to help people create that sense of belonging I rarely ever felt myself. My students were much more successful than I ever managed to become, though I lucked out when finding The Muse and The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, neither outcome preordained or necessarily deserved. I preserve my dignity at a distance from this neighborhood which I never felt I'd inhabited. I never knew the rules for engagement here. I never figured the necessary angles. I remained a rube surrounded by slickers, their sucker more than their neighbor. I befriended my neighbor, an old man who'd start scrap wood fires on his adjacent lot then sit there staring into the fire drinking jug wine and telling stories long into the flickering night about what was not there anymore. He welcomed my son and I to play catch in his field and went away one evening in an ambulance but never came back. His son sold the place and the neighborhood changed, never to change back, more entropy kicking in. Some clown built an oversized house which cast shadows on our place on top of that neighbor's old fire pit, but we'd moved out by then, chasing the promise of home up on top of Mt Tabor. We didn't find home lurking there, either, just another HomeAwayFrom.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

blog comments powered by Disqus

Made in RapidWeaver