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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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THAT NEW PLACE:  AN URBAN RENEWAL TALE

Roger N. Meyer

Copyright 2004.  All Rights Reserved

 

 

     [This is a fictional narrative I wrote depicting the thoughts of a  new owner of an ill-thought-out community development corporation townhouse, built in the Urban Renewal District of the City of Gresham, Oregon.  I wrote it as a memorandum to the board of directors of the CDC out of concern that having the vision to create a  comprehensive future site planning feasibility process would stop further  CDC hasty purchase of poorly situated undeveloped land.  The CDC's first "project" in Gresham has, by report of all of its first time owners, been a disaster due to what appears to have been poor CDC consideration of the human factors of community and personal safety and  access to amenities that are at the heart realty's mantra of LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION.  The real object of this narrative is to show how the absence of planning for the long-haul health of a multiple family common-wall development can lead to early owner turnover due to factors preventing the natural development of a sense of community.]

 


 

Their Place

 

     Folks asking questions like:  Is it safe to live here?  What about the gang wars just up the street?  Can you walk two miles on no sidewalks with traffic whizzing by you at forty, fifty, sixty miles and hour, with your ears burning from trucks using their engines as brakes just to save a few millimeters of brake pad, to go that extra mile without having to fuel up because you cut the fuel switch and then the booster, and coast to the stoplight with your engine back-dragging a dead load?

 

     Or the kids on their skateboards at the empty light rail stop just waiting for their delivery, small time dope dealers, consumers most of them, high school kids cutting class to make a fin or a twenty for that MP3 download they just gotta have, and in the meantime, they keep breaking into the cars across the street.  You're smart.  You don't park there at all, and you know that they steal thirty year old junkers just like mine for their dope scores, or their two block joyride because they gotta meet their pimp, or their big brother who's finally going to give you the right high sign and you're in, you're now an official member of the 13th street Crips.

 

     All those months of wannabe tagging just to make your points, to jack up the line, finally, to make "family."  No!?  Never mind that half the guys your age are dead this time the next year, or back down in LA cooling off after that street heist that went sour and they cracked the grandma just a bit too hard "to make a point" and it looks like five to ten if they catch you.  Or in the finishing academy, the state pen 'cause it was your first time. Learning, always learning how to do the stuff better next time so you can pay the man to look the other way, so you can squeeze the landlord with your greenbacks so you can get back and keep cookin' the shit in your bathtub.  And so what if the kid's crying, and all snotty, and your old lady's hanging out at her sister's, just as long as she ain't screwin' around.  At least not while you're watching, she ain't.  In the meantime, you're waiting for the cold pills to start poppin' in the meth cooker so's you've got a nice batch, and oops, better watch that little fire over there, or putting that pyrex beaker too close to the powder that goes BANG just if you look at it.

 

Our Place

 

     On the other side, on the side that knows nothing about this, in the meantime, you work on your house.  480 hours to go.  460 next weekend.  They talk about the homeowner's association.  Whazzat?  Man, you've been doing nothing but scratching the match for your rent for all these years, and they start buzzing you about whatcha gotta do to be a bigwig every month for the meetings, and the CCNR's and the bylaws, and all that junk.  And yes, those classes about how to get along with our new fellow first-time owner neighbors.  Check ins from that great class on budgeting and money management and notifying the bank when you've been laid off, and making sure you don't let your kid anywhere near that paint can and the sponge brush outside, because all the color's the same outside.  You just hope he'll mess up the living room wall, like he did before.  After all, that's inside, and it's your house, and no one comes around to inspect like they did with Housing, and damn!  You're a homeowner.

 

     But wait.  We gotta get them to school.  Man! Did they grow up fast.  They said all we could have would be just one car, but now that Jean's OK to start back to work part time at Target, we gotta figure out how to get to the Safeway two miles away AND the dentist's appointment for the kid's braces all the way across town.  All in two hours.  So.  So what's the big deal?  Got a steal.  Guy just ran it through DEQ and his roommate he takes off with the rent money and stuff.  A hundred bucks, and DEQ all done, and the fifteen at DMV for the pink slip.

 

     The junker's two blocks down the way.  They won't find out about it, because the guy next door....he told me how to just go about my business, and keep the pull cart in the trunk, just like I got off the light rail.  That's only a couple of blocks, maybe fill up the cart with the grocery bags a couple of times, but in the meantime, it all fits in the trunk AND I didn't have to ask the bratty thirteen year old to watch her brother, because he sits real quiet in that car seat.  Man, was he a pain on the bus.  But somehow, you can reach around and whack him if you wanna in that car seat, but all he needs is that look, you know, and he's real quiet, and now it's time to pick up the daughter at the swimming pool.  Car's a lot nicer than her getting uptight about getting a cold on the bus with her wet hair and everything, specially since it's already raining.

 

     We sat in that class and they told us about being a good neighbor.  Hell, I knew all about that.  After all, we've made it this far, so if the kid can't play on the street in fronta your own house, whatsa big deal?  Hell, they don't even have sidewalks to either side of this project, so how do they expect Jean to push the stroller?  With those tiny wheels, you hit a bump or a dip and the baby's half out of the thing.

 

     Diapers. A trip.  Damn, at the 7-11 three blocks away, they want almost a buck apiece for them.  A lot nicer giving a ride to the neighbor for gas money and using her card at Costco.  That's much more like it.  Down to 17 cents apiece, only you can't get that big, bulky forty-pack in the cart.  So, the last time I just march down the street with the thing straight from the trunk just like it is, and what's anyone to say?  You tell 'em you just had to make that 55 minute round trip to Walgreen's three miles away on the light rail just for one item, but yeah, you saved.   Only thing I hafta to worry about is not getting stopped in that crate, and me without any insurance on the thing.

 

     Jean won't drive it.  Says she's got too much to lose.  She worries a lot.  She worries enough for both of us.  They can kick you right out and tow your car.  No ride home.  Nuthin'.  And, on top of the tow and impound fee, you get that eighty dollar ticket, so yeah, you watch yourself real slow, even if those dumb ass drivers going it seems the wrong way when you're trying to turn are going to rip off the passenger side mirror again like that fool did last week.  I just drove right past the front easy because no one really pays attention to the shit-assed street out front, but you gotta still get the cart out and play the stupid game.

 

     And that woman we pay five bucks a week to park it on her front yard.  That's a good deal.  A lot better because she's got those yard lights on all night, and nobody messes with her because she's already got 91 dialed on her cell phone every time she steps out, and all it takes is that last 1 and the cops, seems like they're just around the corner the way she tells it.  They're grateful for the tips, they are, so they don't mess with all the cars and mine parked in her front yard.  Besides, those two junk cars out in her back yard...got my replacement side mirror from her for only two bucks.  So it works out just fine.  If only the drugstore was anywhere close so I could get that cough medicine for the kid.  Two miles down to Safeway.  Damn.

 

     But look.  I got a house.  You got rent, Uh uh, I got a mortgage that fits real good, and as soon as the oldest has to go to that high school, we've made plans to sell, 'cause after all, the high school for the district, their one damned Ford Plant of a high school is seven miles way at the edge of town past those houses on those three acre lots with duck ponds on the side and those long neat driveways.  Figure by that time, we'll still be doing well enough so some other sucker will feel tickled pink to get our place, only they'll have to pay just a bit more because they don't have to work but three hundred hours on that Habitat project just down the road.  Not as if that place is theirs, like ours is really ours.

 

     But it all works out.  Besides, I don't hafta tell 'em about the light rail stop.  Hope they'll figure it out AFTER they've put down the down payment and after we've got the appreciation difference from Habitat.  Nice nest egg, that, what we built.

 

     Shame we gotta have to leave Ms. Faye down at the end.  She's better than mom, and she'd take the kids in a flash.  Suppose she'll be real good with any kids.  She loves kids.  Doesn't get out much.  You know.  Can't walk very well, and the guys from Point to Point told her she'd have to be out front at least ten minutes before she needs to just in case they're early.

 

     Front.  HEH!  In ten minutes just waiting she'd get mugged twice and shot dead three times.  Man, if you'd really looked carefully, you'd tell just about anyone who doesn't live here that front's just like what you left on the North side of Portland two years ago.  Couldn't go outside.  Lady next door, to our old place... she's doing better now after she got caught in that Uzi spray from the Bloods.  What a bitch.  She still limps a bit, but she knows better than to leave that porch swing out front.  Too tempting, and she might forget to tell her friends who always admire that big front porch of hers she can't use it.  Not after she got shot.  Nope.

 

     Just hope that Mrs. Faye has that nice guy across the way, yeah, the one with the limp, watch out from the super's second story back window and she can shoo right down the driveway just as the TriMet Point to Point is making it through that bumpy patch and all those holes on the street.  Seems like it takes the bottom out of the bus every time they hit that one deep puddle.  But it's got a bottom, otherwise the water wouldn't hold like it does.  Yeah   She'll be all right.

 

     She got folks here to take after her like she does our kids.  Damn.  Trouble is you can't let the kids go out to play on the street.  And their friends from school, they live only three blocks down, across the MAX tracks and in that big apartment thing on the other side.  Even they won't walk the three blocks, and they've been here with their folks a lot longer than before this place was built.  Sucks.  Even though it was bad when we was growing up, at least you could walk down the street, down across the park, and no body'd be behind that old bunch of bushes like in that guy's front yard just next door. 

 

     You know, he's never come over or anything and told us his name.  He keeps to himself, shuffling back and forth to that garage shop of his.  Saw three different kids just waiting there, in the bushes three different days.  I know what they were waiting for.  Who that is.  Anyone.  No money in anyone's pockets anymore.  Not after what they did to Jenny's kid.  Jeez.  Fifteen cents.  Thirteen stitches and she still has trouble hearing.  Man, if that'd happened to me when I was a kid, I'd a....

 

     But it ain't then now.  Now, I don't even know the names of any of their friends.  Feel kinda bad when I ask them what they did at school.  They just run those names past me, but I gotta connect a name with a face.  Always bad about that.  Gotta see a person before I can tell you their name I've heard a dozen times.

 

     Makes me feel bad that when I talk with the nurse at the clinic, every time I go across town 'cause I like the doc that I just can't get her name down right.  Wish he'd move out here, but not after what they did to that nurse right out in broad daylight out here.  And the dentist we were going to start Jake at.  Saw him once, and he had that look on his face like we were the first customers he'd had all month.  Said he couldn't keep any of those pain shot things in his cabinet 'cause it's the third time they busted into his place just for that.  He finally gave up trying to hide the stuff.  Felt like a fool, he said, and if one of his friends from the dental school he finished at would visit him, he'd get that funny look and hafta explain why he finally threw away the lock cabinet.  No good after they busted the glass the first time, and punched out the lock the second time.

 

     Last week I got off the bus and they took down his name on that lighted sign.  Guess he's left too.  Now what kind of a place is it that all the folks you need, why they're just pulling out?  Maybe going somewhere else, but I don't know about that dentist.  Looked like he'd had it.  Probably selling shoes down at Kinneys somewhere.  As if they'd even have a Kinney's anywhere close here.

 

     Last time I went to that little Mexican place at the end of the block to get just a small tube of toothpaste, the guy charged me four bucks.  Can you get that?  Four bucks.  I see the same thing when we go to Safeway, and they ain't no bargain basement.  Not Safeway.  At least they always have what you want right there.  I know   I checked last time we went.  Dollar eighteen.

 

     Oh, don't get me wrong.  I'm not ungrateful or nothing like that.  Just wish I'da known more about what we don't have around here.  Maybe I would have given the whole deal the wave.  Three years here, and nothing. 

 

     No place to get clothes for the kids, though that second hand store that just closed, that was pretty good.  Trouble was, it was two miles up the road, and the bus turns just four blocks up.  Not worth the walk.  That's why the junker. 

 

     Back and forth in twenty minutes, tops.  When Jake got invited to that kid -- what's his name -- his birthday.  Try to find a birthday card, any kind a card.  You'd think someone would have birthday cards.  I swear Jean was all over me.  Three days.  Two days.  Man.  I love that woman, but can she rag you over stuff like, um, that card.  So yeah, there I was like a dummy.  Burning up gas in the junker to go three miles down Stark to that Dollar Store where they had cards.  Once.  Couldn't believe it   They took out those shelves and put in all those stupid shampoos.  Well.  A buck   Suppose you can make more money selling shampoo than some dumb ass card everybody's thumbed and turned the corners on.  One measly buck   Hada go across the street to Kroger.  They got everything, but seems like they wanta make the first and last month's rent outa anything you buy.  Two ninety nine.  That's what it cost me for that dumb card.  That and an hour of screwing around and getting angry at that lady at the Dollar store.  Wasn't her fault.  Then damn near got creamed turning out of the parking lot, just to get to the other side of the road to Krogers.  In an out in maybe ten minutes tops.  Felt kinda funny walking outa there with that stupid card in my hand.  Only thing I got.  Lady at the checkout she asks me whether I want a bag for that.  I tell her, You kidding?  It's just a card.  Whatdya think I'd be carrying in that bag?  A beer or something?  Man, I damn near lost it.  So pissed I was.  But the card.  The kid.  He got the card, so I s'pose it was worth it.  Over an hour and a half screwing around for a dumb ass birthday card for a four year old.  Can't even read it.  Yeah.  I know.  Jean, she says its the idea that counts and I gotta hand it to her.  She comes upside my head sometimes but damn, she's good.  Can't tell you how many times she's got me all cooled down when I'm just about to do stuff to the kids I swore to her that night I'd never find myself doing, not like my old man.

 

     Oh, don't get me started on that one

 

     Anyway, we got our house.  Yes, we do, and just as soon as the middle one's right for high school, we move.  Just like that.  Hard to say we got roots we're pullin' out.  Don't feel as though we've planted here.  Oh we got the place, and last winter I did all that shoveling, and Jake, he's made some friends, I suppose.  But it isn't like where we rented in North Portland. 

 

     Seems like three years already and I haven't yet walked past that bar down on the corner.  What for?  I know what's there.  Co-rection!.  I can tell you what isn't there.  Nothin.  That's what's there.  Do I want hubcaps?  Sure. Put the baby's food in an upside down broken ass hubcap.  Jean.  She says go get some of that soft plastic stuff.  We gotta teach him how to eat outa, you know, plates and stuff. 

 

     Better luck finding that kinda stuff at those garage sales, if I wouldn't feel so dumb driving down those quiet streets with the muffler gone and all.  Betcha I could pick it up for a nickel.  Just betcha.  Feel funny driving those streets.  Don't know nobody there, just folks standing at those card tables and in their car ports and what not, pickin' over junk.  I could do that in the old place.  Didn't feel funny like I do out here.  Oh. Don't get me wrong.  Folks are friendly and stuff, but I dunno.  Just don't feel right.  Like connected.  Yeah.  That's it, don't feel connected.  No loss to sell this place.  Man whata we got to lose?

 

     I mean we've done fine and all, but you know, there's something that's missing.  Like connections.  Like people like us.  Suppose there are lotsa folks like us, but like, we feel different.  We've been here goin' on three years next month the fifteenth it'll be, and I can't go two blocks and not feel, well, you know, kinda lost.  Maybe Jean and me, we expected too much.  Like we move here, to a new place, with the two kids, our place and all, but it's ours, but I don't feel, like, settled. 

 

     I mean, our old place.  It was a dump, but maybe that wasn't it.  Yeah, it was a dump, but ya know?  Like it was our dump.  That's it.  We didn't own anything.  Hell, half the furniture we had, some we still have, we got from Arnie and his old lady when they were cleaning out their place and they asked us to just take what we wanted, you know?  I felt funny, but I knew Arnie, and Jean, she was tight with what's her name, and it seemed natural.  So easy, I'm saying   Maybe that's it   Except for that one time when I got a jump on the old Merc, that's the only time in nearly three years I've asked for something stupid like that from somebody here, and even then, the guy, whathisname, like he kind of looked at me when I got out of the Merc and not even the light went on on the ceiling, you know.  So I knew it was the battery.  So he comes over and I guess he sees that look on my face when I get all pissed off but not mad or anything, and he hands me one end of the cables and we do it.  His car next to mine and all.  Guess we didn't say more than ten words to each other.  Didn't have to, but somehow, it wasn't the same like when Arnie's old lady she came over to our place to get a bag for her vacuum cleaner or something.  No sweat.  And they lived three houses down, and our kids, they didn't even play with their kids or anything.  It was just, well, easy, you know what I mean?

 

     So I s'pose what I'm getting at is that it ain't easy here.  Maybe we expected too much and all, and we're grateful we have our own place.  Never thought that would happen, that day when Jean came in the back door with all the papers and stuff.  All those papers.  Ya know, that was more trouble than getting my back out when I was under the corner building, right down there next to that bush, and the concrete was all over me, and I turned the wrong way with that hose under my arm and crunch.  It gave.  I tell ya I couldn't lay down straight for three weeks.  But Jean and I.  We did it.  Lot easier the next time, and that time, it's coming up soon.  We just know it.

 

 

Copyright Issues

 

This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

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