“Packing is my pet hate.” – Seal

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While I was never able to articulate this in years past, it occurred to me recently that the reason I have such issues with packing is the overall emotional weight of the entire process. There is something about putting all of your accumulated possessions into boxes that makes you feel trapped and claustrophobic, partially because you know that these boxes will remain mostly sealed for quite some time. Not only does packing uncover all the things you had shoved into the corners of your life in the hopes it would go away / resolve itself without any effort, but it puts into perspective the number of things you actually own, and your own caustic relationship with your material things.

In the days before we had Hoarders, the term you heard most often was Pack Rat, and I was raised as one. Something about all the moves we went through as a kid, coupled with all the things I lost to siblings and my own carelessness, caused me to overcompensate in a way that led to me keeping everything, and having no ability to sort through it, or keep track of it usefully. By the time I was in High School, and had discovered Comic Books and Music, I was screwed. I started filling longbox after longbox with back issues, and each cassette / CD / LP container I purchased was very quickly not enough to hold the new things I was bringing home. While I’m not exactly sure if I was born a collector, once I had a taste for it, I adopted all of the intrinsic qualities of one before I fully understood their implications.

In the early days of living on my own, this was not as much of a problem as it has become. My ‘Archive’ (as I have come to refer to it) was rather small, and at its worst, arranging for transportation was the most difficult aspect of moving I had to face. In those days, it almost took as much time to pack as it did to close the box and put it in the truck. However, as the years have passed and my archive has expanded to the point where I found myself wondering why I own two microwaves, four teapots, a strange assortment of glass items (is that a cup? a vase? what is that?) I don’t even remember purchasing, and a box of used batteries.

It is not hard to understand that we all form long-term and important relationships with our stuff. George Carlin has expounded on this more eloquently than I ever will be able to, but his point is so well made that it bears revisiting. We often define ourselves in relation to our things, and even those searching for a connection to the universe outside of the material realm are still functioning in opposition to the hold that material things have on us. While I am the wrong person to make this claim, I do feel that stuff is not intrinsically bad for us. Even the minimalists in my life are caught making the comment, “I love my _________,” and the creature comforts of having things that you enjoy have measurably positive effects, I believe.

However, when confronted with the overwhelming number of things that I own, I have a recurring fantasy that will stick with me forever: I come home to my things, there is no one else around, and there is no hope of endangering anyone around me. I strike a match, throw it down, watch until the fire is burning quite large, then run for my dear life, freed from the trappings of our modern world.

In reality, I would be devastated by such an event. But I still dream about it from time to time.

The real problem with packing is that it is a thankless job. This is work that you are not compensated for, must be done by a deadline, and is followed by a tremendous amount of work afterward, too. Usually, you have a number of unforeseen expenses that come up, and in the end, you are performing this work after you have put in a full day’s work, anyway. There’s nothing like waking up, packing for a few hours, going to work, coming home to pack for a few more hours, knowing that ultimately you get to spend days / weeks / months unpacking, too.

The worst is uncovering things that are still packed from the last move. I found a number of boxes in the garage that I was afraid to even look at, because I knew that they had remained unopened since the last time I had moved, and didn’t even what to bring up the notion that I should just throw them out, because it is something I am incapable of doing, try as I might. To my credit, I threw away six boxes of stuff that I had sitting around in this kind of state. However, the 36 boxes that were still left over didn’t make it feel as if I made much progress.

The intention behind packing is always so noble, and what it becomes by the end of the process is so completely gross that it is embarrassing. When you first start loading boxes, extreme care is usually taken. Everything is labeled very carefully, progress is slow, and you are sure that your book boxes contain books, your dishes are carefully wrapped, and your clothes are properly stored to reduce wrinkles and make them easy to find when you get to your destination. However, as your move-out date gets closer and closer, your attention to detail is more and more off base. When you’re unpacking, you will eventually find a box that is full of a half-eaten omelet, Seasons 2 & 6 of Lost, 16 dried up pens, a half-used box of tissues, letters from a girl you explicitly destroyed eight years previously, and a string of linked paperclips with a zipper tangled within it.

Let’s not even discuss the garbage bags full of who-knows-what.

The one thing I kept thinking about when I was frantically trying to compartmentalize my life was that this must have been a more intense version of what Andy Warhol was going through when he started making his Time Capsules. While the story goes that he would fill these boxes with things that would show up in his office and on his desk, part of me feels as if he was undergoing a massive packing art project, one that took up years and was coupled with the emotional weight that packing often brings with in. His capsules completely evoke the feeling of someone frantically putting everything – anything – in boxes, and while they are viewed as incredible works of art, I can’t help but imagine the craziest moving day in history, with Andy fussing and fretting over what goes in which box.

Even the relief of being fully packed and moved is only the façade of relief, as you now have an entire house full of things that need to be unpacked and put away, an entirely new set of challenges that will likely never end until you are ready to move again. This time, I have some very grand goals: throw out half the things I no longer need, reduce my belongings to the bare essentials, get a filing cabinet and actually sort through everything in my “Paper Archive,” and on the whole find a Less-Is-More kind of balance to my new lifestyle. However, I’m pretty sure this will not happen. I am a middle-aged man in the 21st Century living a privileged lifestyle that involves no kids or major responsibilities outside of houseplants and keeping the liquor cabinet full. I have so much inertia behind my terrible habits that I fear for the people who have to go through my estate when I pass.

I can only hope they have the common sense to just light it all on fire.

#AptLife

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.

Now We Are 16: A Blasphuphmus Radio History

Austin Rich, 1998, Blitzhaus, Preparing For A Broadcast
Austin Rich, 1998, Blitzhaus, Preparing For A Broadcast

On April 15th in 1998, I was drunk and determined not to miss my first appearance as the weekly host of a program that aired from 4 AM to 6 AM on KWVA in Eugene, Oregon.  I meandered down to the station after closing down the bar in my neighborhood, and popped into the studio to meet with a somewhat confused Station Manager.  She looked at me, asked if I knew what I was doing, to which I replied, “Of course.”  (I did not.)  Shaking her head, she left, asking me not to swear on the air, and soon enough I let the last song end, turned on the mic, and have not stopped broadcasting (or causing people to shake their heads) ever since.

Trying to tell someone that you are involved in Free Format, Non-Commercial Community Radio is a bit like trying to tell someone that you like to not get paid for things that you do.  Usually, the Free Format Non-Commercial Community part of the statement is glossed over, and they latch onto the “radio” part.  “Where are you on the air?  When?  What do you play?”  The answers to these questions very quickly bore most people, and when you don’t mention their favorite station, or that you incessantly play their favorite band, they no longer care anymore.  Go ahead and try to explain to them that you are involved in a conceptual program, presented over a long period of time, and involves non-musical audio recordings, odd narrative bits revealed in voice overs, mixed in with obscure and possibly unknown musical artists.  See where it gets ya.  I’ll wait.

The lack of traditional continuity is another issue.  When I explain that the show has been on a number of stations since 1998, and that the show has had a few different titles in that time, people get easily confused.  The fact that I have hosted other programs that are not related to Blasphuphmus Radio can only confuse people more, and the various numbering schema that we’ve used to organize the show only complicates the matters more.

There are other matters that make it difficult to make sense of: our name (Blasphuphmus?  Huh?), my name, the number of “last ever broadcasts” I’ve participated in.  There’s also the fact that most radio anymore is no longer happening on the AM or the FM.  Podcasts?  Archives?  Webstreams?  Inevitable questions come up: how are you live on the Inter-Web-A-Tron?  How come I can’t listen in my car?

What is this all about?

Good question.  I think, if I knew all of these answers, then there would no longer be a point to all of this for myself, either.  Radio, in many ways, is about discovery, and as I continue to make my own discoveries, I am compelled to share them with those around me.  For me, the outside world is something to be inquisitive about, and I don’t think that I can adequately answer the questions that regularly come up if the people asking are the kinds that gloss over the phrase, “Free-Format, Non-Commercial.”  Radio is, for lack of a better means of describing it, an audio puzzle that I am constantly trying to solve.  You have to be interested in those kinds of puzzles to really want to try and crack it yourself.

If you are a dedicated listener, then my suspicion is that you aren’t so much looking for an answer per se, but for a new question to reveal itself to you.  “Who is this?  What is this?  Where can I find it?  Is there more like it?”  These are the questions that we’re confronted with constantly as music fans.  These are questions that are never adequately answered, nor should it be in my mind.  The entire reason I’m involved in radio is because there is a nagging desire to find new puzzles to solve, and my hope is that there are enough of you who enjoy these puzzles that make being in broadcasting worth it to you, too.

In trying to solve this puzzle for myself over the last 16 years, I have seen and heard some amazing things.  (I have also seen and heard some awful things, but we try not to think about Bush & Creed these days.)  I have met some incredible artists, all of whom were very excited to be a part of this project that I’ve been slowly building in this time: Exene Cervenka, Monogamy Party, Dinosaur Jr., DEAD (from Australia), Camper Van Beethoven, Gaythiest, Dr. Frank, RABBITS, Devotchka, and over 250 other bands that I can’t possibly name all in this space (but you can stream or download nearly all of them from here.)  I’ve gotten to broadcast on the air with all of my best friends over the years, and have some of the most memorable recordings of those shows.  I have gotten to interview a countless numbers of people, and have learned some incredible stories about people I know and appreciate.  And, I have been able to spend entire evenings by myself, alone with a pair of turntables, playing records for the entire world to hear.

To be honest, our 16th Anniversary this year snuck up on me.  Last year’s two-day extravaganza was really huge, and while some of the previous anniversaries have had worthwhile celebrations too, it didn’t really occur to me that the date had arrived until it was almost upon me.  And in a way, that is fitting.  More than drawing attention to arbitrary milestones and numbers that might sound as if I’m just boasting, being involved in radio is about showing up every week, year in, year out, and meeting the particular challenge that lies ahead.

As Blasphuphmus Radio continues to grow and expand, it is worth it to stop and smell the roses of our past, and see where we have wound up.  In 1998, you either listened live, or I made you a tape that I had recorded off of the board so you could hear the show.  Now, you stream the content whenever and wherever you want – live for otherwise – and we have listeners in Alaska, Macedonia, here in town, and in outer space.  In 1998, we had one host, one program, and were on the air in the early hours of the morning on one station, heard in only one town in a remote part of the Pacific Northwest.  Now, we have a number of shows all part of our family, with a variety of hosts, themes, and subjects, available whenever and wherever you happen to be.  In 1998, radio was a single medium format – audio – and very few other forms of media was even considered to cross over with that method of deliver.  Now, video and photos are an everyday part of our program, and it would weird if we didn’t offer at least a photo, if not captured in a variety of ways.

There are more changes and expansions for us on the horizon, and as we adopt new technologies in an effort to bring you the best program we can, we want to look back at our humble beginnings and trace the insane (and incredibly diverse) history that we offer.  We have always been interested in finding new musical questions to ask, and present them to the world in a way that, hopefully, causes listeners to ask other questions, too.  We have been, to quote John Flasburgh of They Might Be Giants, an outward-looking entity, trying to make sense of (and participate within) a creative universe that is harsh and sometimes forbidding.

To know that many of you have been listening – a few of you for many many years now – is not only a testament to the fact that our inquisitive nature is paying off, but that we have a lot more in store that we should be asking questions about.

I mean, I still don’t know anything about Chinese Opera.  I wonder what it sounds like?

Here’s to the next 16 years.  Cheers.

Until next time: Be Seeing You.

The Searchers

Where Is This Place Again?
Where Is This Place Again?

Between the time that we decided that we would have to look for a new place outside of the city of Portland, to the point that we moved into our new home, there was a long period of confusion and frustration. While I have moved a number of times in my life, I had only changed cities a few times as an adult. Prior to my sojourn in Portland (14 years), I lived in Eugene (6 years) and then briefly in Oregon City / Milwaukie / Globe / Cottage Grove (again) (2 years total between them, maybe?). Before that, all the moves were with my family, and the decisions were made without me. A quick review of these locations will not only confirm that for over 20 years I have been an Oregonian, but that my experiences within this state are also extremely limited.

M, on the other hand, is a much more experienced mover, having lived outside of the US, on both coasts, and in a number of large (and small cities) in-between. Where I have extreme difficulty overcoming the inertia that a comfortable home can offer, M is much more willing to uproot herself for any good reason of which she can think  Where I do not travel very well, and find the idea of leaving behind my records to be a challenge, M likes the idea of spending time elsewhere, and posed the idea of moving several times before it began to sink in as a viable option. Suffice it to say, in our relationship, I am the one that needs coaxing to get outside of my comfort zone, where M’s comfort zone is anywhere that she can live with either me or her cat.

That being said, we very quickly fell into a pattern with regards to house searches: M would troll the online listings until she found something, and we would investigate together to see if we liked it. If we both liked a place, we would apply for it, cross our fingers, and see what happened.

And for a long while, nothing was exactly what happened. It’s one thing to decide that you want to move. It’s another entirely to find a place that wants you. As different landlords would talk to us, it became clear that we had several strikes against us that made us unwelcome. While we both had full time jobs, our credit ratings are not stellar. We both have massive student loans under our belts, and without a family that we supported, it was difficult to win over the landlords that asked if we wanted kids. Running a credit check on me is always good for a laugh here and there, but at the end of the day, if it prevents us from moving anywhere, I become the joke in question.

Not far into the process of looking for a new home, we found an excellent place that met all our needs, and was not too far away from PDX. We met with the landlord, saw the place, and immediately applied. We waited patiently for a response, and the following week, we each received a notice in the mail, typed, explaining why we were not able to rent the house.

Initially, this was extremely disconcerting to M, and she dwelled on this for a while, suggesting that this was a sign that we wouldn’t have any luck finding a place. However, I went over the letter I received in a little more detail. One ding against me was, “Late Rental Payments: 10 + times in the last two years.” This was patently not true; I had only paid cash to personal friends for places I was renting over the last several years, and had no official rental agreements with anyone in the last two years, let alone was I ever late. Another mark against me read, “Late Credit Card Payments: 10 + times in the last two years.” I have never had a credit card, save for the Target Card I used used in 1997, which was paid off and canceled very quickly afterward. To their credit, there were a few things of which I was guilty: several large student loans each had monthly payments, and I had been late making those a number of times when I decided that food and shelter were more important. But most of their reasons to not rent to us were entirely fabricated, especially since I do not know how to drive, let alone have any insurance payments to make that could have been late.

This is the most difficult part of searching for houses. As anyone can tell you, there is no end to the kinds of dirt – real or imagined – that can be dug up on anyone, especially when it comes to the world of credit and finances. The age-old conundrum of not being eligible to borrow money until you have borrowed money and then repaid it will give you some insight into the insanity of how the system works. My favorite example of this goes back to 2003, when I was trying to rent a place from a gentleman who looked at my income, and said that I didn’t make enough money to rent from him. However, he would be willing to overlook that problem if I paid twice as much deposit upfront on a place I was already going to pay first & last month’s rent on. I mentioned to him casually that depleting my savings up front actually made me more of a financial liability than if he was to only charge me the regular amount for a new rental, and that the savings would actually benefit me in the event that my income ever took a hit in some way. He looked at me like I was insane. “If you can come up with the larger deposit now, that tells me that you will always be able to come up with the money when you need to pay rent.”

M and I encountered a few other places that didn’t want to rent to us, but always using the most specious of reasoning. On several occasions M was ready to throw in the towel, and suggested that we give up the idea, and instead become more comfortable with our crummy apartment. I remember one day, as we got home to a messy place, dishes piled high, both of us exhausted, where we were both about to lose it. This is the misery of the privileged, of people who have everything they need and most of what they want, and would like to be improve things slightly, but have only inconveniences blocking our every path. There is no reason we can’t get rid of enough of our belongings until we fit comfortably in our apartment, lowered our expectations for the future, and continued to persist in our Portland lifestyle. The only reason we didn’t go that route was that we didn’t, “want to.”

Without digressing too far, this is yet another example of the class system that exists in America, which is entirely stratified by money and money alone. In the grand scale of things, M and I are very, very privileged. We are never hungry, we have a place to live, we both have necessities and conveniences that make our lives fairly easy, and neither of us have to perform manual labor to earn our wages. And yet, we only make just enough to stay in this lifestyle. We are each one major medical emergency away from losing this life, and my brief unemployment of four months took almost a year for us to reverse, financially. We are on a precarious edge of the particular class we exist within, and the financial instability around us acts as a reminder that, if we are not careful, we will be in poverty, or worse.

Largely, the world around us knows this, and landlords (or other people in a similar positions) have the ability to exert class control over the people beneath them. While these kinds of class complications exist in much more stark relief in other countries, it is also present here. George Saunders made the excellent observation that between the very rich and the very poor, we experience a unique existence where the constant and persistent pressure of capitalism is chipping away at our psyches throughout every day of our lives. This pressure shapes our existence in ways of which we aren’t fully aware. Looking for a place to live, and being judged on your financial value before a decision can be made, puts this class structure at the forefront of every conversation.

As we hung in this emotionally distressing space – and had been rejected a few times – we finally told members of M’s family that we wanted to move, and received a lot of enthusiasm about the idea. We had been apprehensive about telling anyone about our desire to move, mostly because we were apprehensive about telling anyone in the event that it didn’t come to pass. However, telling someone else not only brings the idea to life, but holds us to following through with the plan no matter what. Once the idea is out in the world, it builds that much more momentum around the need to actually complete itself, and telling M’s family sealed the deal.

In the wake of this, we found a few different places that we were interested in, and after a very similar application song and dance, we suddenly found ourselves in a position where we had a number of places to choose from, all accepting our applications. This turn of events not only called into question the validity of the previous rejections that we had gotten (which I was already fairly certain were bogus), but brought into sharp relief the class difference that was starting to develop in Portland. Not only is there a “hipness” issue at work, where people who are not cool are shunned and pushed out to the fringes of the city, but overlaying the economic pressure onto this problem creates an environment where only those who are “cool” and “financially secure” happen to make the cut. The rejections had nothing to do with our past, but how cool we are, now.

Strangely enough, the concerns that barred us from being able to rent in Portland don’t seem to exist in Salem. We were welcomed with open arms, at a reasonable cost, and felt as if our cool rating was not a part of the discussion. Before long we had a home, keys in hand, and plan to move in the weeks that followed.

Musings on The Reasons

C'mon Everybody We're Moving To... Salem?
C’mon Everybody We’re Moving To… Salem?

As someone who has spent the last 14 years firmly rooted in all the culture, friendships, and environment that is Portland Oregon, there have been no small number of shrugs, confused looks, accusations of diminished sanity, and a large amount of pleading on the behalf of all that is cool in the world, with regards to our firm decision to head south and set up camp in the remote village of Salem. After the initial Witch Trial jokes had been pitched, punched up, and delivered in every possible permutation, the genuine queries – ‘No, really, why?’ – began to roll, in.

Most folks adamantly refused to believe that we really were moving, and this was only aggravated by the fact that much of our announcement period immediately preceded (and then followed) April 1st. Still others expressed anger and confusion over a decision that seemed preposterous and downright illogical. After all, who in their right mind would want to move away from Portland? Not that they don’t have every reason to ask. I’m still trying to make sense of that, myself.

Certainly there is no one reason, and obviously the reasons we do have for this transition are more nuanced and complex than can be addressed in any kind of simple answer. It is my hope that I can record my thoughts as I am in the midst of this transition, and make some sense of them as I try to explain them to myself. I can say with utmost certainty that the decision was ours, together. Both M and I came to this decision, agreed to every part of it, and knew full well that the decision to move several miles beyond the outside edge of the furthest possible place anyone in the “Portland Metro Area” would consider moving to does come across as being a little daffy. Hopefully, as I pursue this experience through posts about life in this remote Outpost, some of the answers will come together in a way that we can both understand.

The desire to move had been brewing within us for some time, as we began to grapple with a confluence of events that happened in the space of about six months. Our apartment was already bursting at the seams with regards to space, and while it served us very well in the initial phases of our budding relationship, as our lives began to become more integrated, the observation that we did not have enough space became incredibly apparent. Our living room, kitchen and bathroom were incredibly small, and entertaining more than a few guests at once was just inconvenient. There just weren’t enough places to sit, for one, and being on the corner of a busy intersection did not make the place much more appealing in the long run. Even the cat mewled regularly with a concern about space (and the lack thereof), bringing the subject of moving to the forefront of our conversations. We designated a jar to contain our moving funds, and put anything we could find into it.

The space soon became an emotional concern, too. In November I asked M to marry me, and as we would plan this event and look around at our “home,” the constraining nature of our lives in the apartment seemed to embody the concerns that we had about marriage. We shared a bedroom and an office, but these spaces were so close to each other that even when we were alone in separate rooms we could practically reach out and physically touch each other, so matter which side of the apartment we were on. There was no place we could spend time by ourselves, and while being alone was not the end goal, the need for our own spaces was accentuated by the fact that we did not have any rooms of our own. It was the act of merging our lives together that, ironically, solidified our need to not only expand the space that we shared, but to stake out our own space of which we could each take ownership.

We began to create a mental checklist of things that we would need in order to find a place we could now call our home: it must be a house, it must have at least three bedrooms minimum, there must be either an additional space in the form of a basement or attached garage, and hopefully some amount of yard in either the front our back. Cumulatively, we needed to have more space than we had in or apartment, and it had to be in a neighborhood that we both wanted to live in. (No point in moving to a place you are just going to hate.) We also wanted to live in a place that would allow our life together to grow, rather than stagnate. M wanted a space where she could set up a sewing machine, display her collections, and work in peace when she needed to. I wanted a space where I can build a recording studio, store my books and comics, and have a workspace for writing and producing ‘zines. As we began to develop a mental picture of what we needed, we were able to create a picture of the kinds of things about which we were and weren’t able to compromise.

As we began searching for something that fit these needs, we immediately hit a pay wall. Even shitty rentals that needed a fair amount of work were coming up around $1900 and $2000 a month, well outside of our price range. As we widened our search to find something a little more reasonable, the prospects seemed worse and worse. We trolled online listings and used every word of mouth resource we could find, but the likelihood of finding what we wanted, in the Portland area, were getting smaller and smaller.

One problem we suffered from was our age and the length of our relationship. As an older couple with fewer years together under our belts, we’d each spent most of our adult lives living with roommates and compromising our living arrangements in an effort to reduce our overall costs. This was extremely beneficial to us as single, partially employed youths, but now that we were looking to expand our space, the options were extremely limited. While our friends all bought houses when the market was still reasonable, neither of us would have the resources to even consider such a purchase in the market that currently exists.

The relative coolness / hipness of the Portland area cannot be factored into this decision enough, either. The Portlandification of everything has not only made this place a destination for second-tier comedians, metal bands of every variety, artists and weirdoes all looking for a place to ply their trade, and film nerds hoping to make their first inroads into the industry. Portland’s desire to keep everything as “weird” as possible has backfired against itself, and now anyone in America who is under 40 and with an interest in current left-of-center cultural trends wants to make the five oh tree their home. When a new development of empty apartments went up in our neighborhood, and the asking price for these rentals was above what we paid for even less space, the city itself made it very clear to us that the salad days of a cheap Portland were long since gone.

This – and other considerations – caused our gaze to migrate further and further south in our searches. It was after all of these realizations set in that M was able to find a place that offered nearly twice as much space as we currently occupy at a little less than the total cost we currently pay (all things considered). At that point, the fact that the house was in Salem seemed beside the point. Not only did it make practical sense, but as a soon-to-be-newlywed couple, the choice almost required no conversation.

Bluntly: our lives revolve around each other, and not the down we live in. Our interest in Portland made perfect sense when we were both single, both small-town outcasts looking to establish identity, and both wanting a place where we could pursue the lives of Country Mice inspired by Big City Life. But the extremes we had to go to in order to make this life possible was becoming silly to most reasonable people. We had already retreated as far away from the people and the places we liked in order to keep our rent reasonable, and as we began to experience commutes and quite nights at home as our way of life, the allure of the city around us became less and less important.

I look around and I see people half my age involved in things I have no interest in. I look around and I don’t recognize the bars and clubs anymore, and none of the patrons are people I know. I look at show listings and I can’t find a single band name I recognize, and when I do, their appearance at an overpriced bar on a Wednesday Night isn’t quite enough to want to earn a hangover for work the next day. As the town around me becomes far too cool for my own life, I look at M every day, and I realize that the only person I want to impress anymore is her, and I don’t have to be anywhere particular to do that.

This was really a moment of self-reflection, because as I considered the move more and more, it dawned on me that I have evolved into someone who is just not as cool as they used to be. There was a time, in those far-off days of the year 2000, when all I wanted to be was at a party, with a girl, at a show, going to bars, finding what – exactly – was up. But those days were long past, and to be honest, I was terrible at being cool. I always managed to say the wrong thing, or take the wrong position, or become enamored with something terribly uncool. The competition in Portland is absolutely fierce, and trying to be cool here is a full time job, and the end result is a fat a bloated beer-soaked ex-punk trying to eke out an existence in a town apathetic to anything but what is currently, and immediately hip-beyond-repair.

The fish and pond analogy comes to mind, in that moving to a small town at this stage in my life not only makes me one of the coolest people in the city of Salem, but takes me out of the PDX competition entirely.

The last element that really seemed to lock everything into place for us came down to the commute that we would have to inevitably face. Portland is only just beginning to develop the need to experience true commuting, and already I had experienced a job that required a nearly four hour commute both ways. (While living in Portland proper.) From our apartment to my office was already a 45 minute bus ride, and coming home could take up to an hour and a half, depending on traffic. On the other end of that commute was a cramped apartment with annoying neighbors, and not exactly the place I wanted to be when I was done with work. Compare that to the 50 minutes it takes us to get between my office and our house in Salem, which is the same length of time in either direction. If we were going to have to commute home anyway, when not drive to and from a house we want to live in, vs. an inconvenient apartment?

Of course, all of these rationales are entirely constructed to cover up for the very simple fact that we just wanted to move and we needed a good excuse to give our friends, okay? We went round and round discussing “pros” and “cons,” corroborating our stories and hoping that they all made sense when our friends began to tear these excuses apart with their own reason and logic. And the problem is: they are entirely right. We are leaving them. They have every reason to be upset. They are our friends. We will miss them, too. We don’t want to move, either. But we are in love. We are building a life together. And that life involves us living in one town, and having all that we love outside of each other in another town.

That is the hardest explanation to give, when you get right down to it. Because this answer acknowledges that the people and places in our lives are secondary to each other, and that’s a huge thing to state loudly and proudly. For our friends in long-term relationships, it speaks to a time when things are new and just beginning, and when something deeper and more intense is only just beginning. For those with kids, it suggests a time when the most important thing in your life wasn’t your child, and that is full of nostalgic and backward-looking perspectives that are also intensely emotional, and can churn up forgotten regrets, or paths not taken.

For us, it is terrifying, because it suggests the extremity of these feelings we have for each other, the intensity of taking a new path and going somewhere new alone and without the support we used to have. For everyone involved, making a statement like, “I am leaving this town,” is not only a challenge to the life you had before, but a declaration of new intentions you have in the future, which can possibly go wrong in many potential scenarios.

To stand tall and express how you feel on a very personal level to your friends and family is always very difficult, and it is always handy to come up with a number of reasons that seem practical and reasonable at the beginning to fall back on. But to look someone in the eye and say, “I will miss you, but I must go, because I am in love with this person, and we have a plan together.”

Well, shit. Are any of us ready for that?