The first place I lived in Portland was a room. I hated to pay rent because I had been living for free. The room cost me about $300 a month. And it was decent. But the house was a mess. The owner lived downstairs. He had dogs. They pooped and peed all over the downstairs area. I avoided it at all costs. And when I couldn’t afford rent, I worked it off by cleaning up after the dogs.
One time I owed him money. He told me I had to pay or move. Okay, I told him. But I wasn’t phased. Which made him angry.
“Don’t you understand,” he yelled. “I am threatening to kick you out!”
I am not sure he understood, I had been out for the last two years. It wasn’t what I wanted. But it wasn’t something I feared.
Then I met a guy on the bus. He took me to meet his roommate. I don’t know why I talked to the man. Or why I went to meet his roommate. Or why his roommate offered to help me. But he did. So I told my landlord I was moving. My new friend offered me a deal on rent. And no dogs. Plus the house was better and closer to work.
When I told me landlord I was moving he asked about money I owed him. He could take it out of my deposit, I explained. The landlord tried to tell me it was a non-refundable deposit. He never got the money. And I found out later non-refundable deposits are illegal.
This information came from working for a non-profit. I volunteered to answer phones and help people with rent problems. It was a free service, and we were only educated in the basics of rental law. Also we had to inform them we couldn’t provide legal advice. Because we weren’t lawyers.
The first job I got was at a deli. It was with a Korean couple. For the most part they were good people. One day the man asked if I had a girlfriend. I told him I didn’t. “Girls are trouble,” he told me.
Around this time a case was in the news. A girlfriend had gone to the coast with her boyfriend. Everyone knew he ended up dead in the ocean. No one knew how. The family and others suspected the girl. And in the end she was charged. “See, I told you, girls are trouble,” the man told me.
What I will always remember about his was time. I would do everything within my power to be on time. And I would be 10 minutes late. Once I swore it must have been the elevator which made me late. The place was in an office building on the fifth floor. It really bugged me. Until I walked in one day, looked at the clock, and looked at him. Then it just clicked in my head. “You set the clock ahead 10 minutes didn’t you?”
“Yes, the one at my house is 15 minutes fast,” was his answer. Which didn’t seem fair. It felt like the deck was stacked against me.
The woman and I didn’t get along often. “I need this first,” she would say about something. And I would think she meant she needed to use it before it was washed. But she wanted me to wash it first. And I doubt I ever got done in the time frame they wanted. But they did feed my everyday. Lots of rice.
One day though, they brought me my last check. “You make me feel dumb,” the woman told me. They paid me for the day and said I could go home. I left upset. Walking downtown upset, some Christian bastard offered me a tract. “No mountain too high for Jesus.” I just walked past him.
My new roommate wasn’t perfect. When Mother came to visit, she said, “I think I am taking it all in well.”
“What, my gay, mentally unstable, kleptomaniac, speed freak, HIV positive roommate?” I asked.
But he is a sweet person. And one of the better roommates I have had in my life. If I ever needed something, I know he would help me again. It was a real blessing to have met and got to know him. Oh, and his health as of writing this is good.
He lived in a house closer to downtown. The first place I lived was in the ghetto. Well, it was at the time. Over the years it has changed. Many would say gentrified. The new neighborhood has also changed over the years. Also gentrified.
Before I moved into the house my roommate hit on me once. I made it clear he was a nice guy, but I wasn’t into men. As roommates he never again crossed the line. We respected each others space, for the most part. But he was a tweaker.
Once I had a notebook I wrote in as a journal. And it disappeared one day. It was no where to be found. Then it reappeared. My roommate had stolen it, read it, replaced it. So I wrote on one of the pages, “Fuck you for reading this…” Just in case he did it again.
I’m not sure how long I lived with him. At some point he started to break-down. There were drugs. And a tweaker moved into the basement for a while. She taught me a few things about running paper. Trust me, making money the legal way is better.
The problems between us mounted. And then he kicked me out. By this time I was working at my second job. Before I moved M had come to visit me. We talked on the phone for a couple months. I had told her about my roommate. And she was surprised we acted like friends. I think we were always friends. Even though we didn’t always understand each other.
My second job was at Burgerville. Like many jobs I started in one place and moved around. My first job was running the drive thru. And I did a good job. Soon I learned how to run the front counter. And then the grill, and the fryer. It wasn’t long before I could, and did, do everything.
After leaving the second house I was homeless again. A co-worker let me sleep in their car. I made the mistake of putting my bike inside, and it ruined the ceiling lining. To this day I feel bad. If I ever make it rich and I could track them down, I would make it right.
But I also slept in the park. Or under one of the bridges downtown. Eventually I found a roommate in a new apartment. It was a friend of a co-worker. The apartment was two blocks from work.
Being close to work. And being able and wiling to do anything meant I worked a lot. There were times others couldn’t get hours. And I was working over 50 hours a week. Sometimes I would get bored and go to work. “Got something for me to do?” I would ask. And the answer was almost always yes.
Once a new manager was asking me when I worked next. “Whenever I feel like it,” was my answer. Which made him laugh. The next day they called me and asked me to work. I had plans, but I arranged a time which worked for me to work. So, I was right. It was when I felt like it.
There were a number of things I liked about the job. I had so great co-workers. In fact one of the best friends of my life I met at Burgerville. But she will need more space to tell her story.
Here is a short tale. One morning I came to work. The manager offered me a cookie. Which I accepted. My friend Michelle was also there. “You going to offer Michelle a cookie too? I asked. He did, but you could tell it wasn’t his original plan. They never liked her much. She doesn’t fit the mold of a fast-food worker.
Towards the end I started training for management. And if I had stayed with the company I think I could have gone far. But I was restless.
While living in Portland I had met a friend from Santa Cruz. Sean was an artist. And to be honest I didn’t recall much of him from Santa Cruz. I know once we were on the beach. He was making art work out of driftwood. It didn’t impress me at the time. When I met him again I appreciated his art a lot more. He became a good friend.
It was also at this apartment near Burgerville where I met Heather. Her story will come later. She was troubled. But I felt a real connection to her. It could have been because I was troubled myself.
Sean and I had talked about taking a trip. And around the same time the Burgerville where I worked was going to be remodeled. I didn’t want to commute across town to work. And I didn’t want to find a new job. Also I was restless. So I put my notice in and left town with Sean.
A few days before we left I was walking with Sean. Crossing the freeway I found a rubber chunk. After picking it up I played like I would throw it over the fence. Sean asked to see it. I tossed it to him and with a fluid motion he threw it over. Bam, it hit something. We were discussing how stupid it was as we walked. Ahead a couple guys stood by the sidewalk.
One leaning on a car, the other on a tree. I didn’t take much notice. But as we passed they grabbed us. They were police and had seen everything. Lucky for us there wasn’t an accident. Sean could have been charged.
During this time in Portland I had Sean. And for a while I had M. But for the most part I was alone. It really felt like I was struggling against all the odds by myself. There were people who helped me. But I had to fight just to get by from day to day.
Oh my first landlord showed up to Burgerville one day. He sat in the drive thru and demanded his money. I told him since I was at work I didn’t have the money. I had no plan to ever pay him money I didn’t feel I owed him. My manager had to threaten to call the police before he would leave.
I am still friends with the second roommate. The roommate in the apartment was a good guy too. He was also gay. Once he was singing the Dolly Parton song, “The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia.” He sang it over and over, I wanted him to stop. So I told him what I read in a book about singing cover songs being bad for your voice.
But when I had girl troubles he was a good friend. He had a lover at the time. And he told me, “coming from men, who like good men, we think you’re a good man.” And I was touched. He knew I was straight. And there was never an issue. But I found it to be a meaningful compliment.
Later I lived with a girl from work. She was crazy. There was a guy at work she liked. Our windows faced the freeway – just across a small street. In fact we were on the floor level with the freeway. So she put a note in her window with tape – to this man. Also I noticed she never took a towel into the shower, and when she came out my towel was damp.
Things didn’t go well a lot of the time I was in Portland. But I started to love the city. It was beginning to feel like it could be home. Downtown was a complex and interesting place. Pioneer Square Park where I met Heather. The waterfront park and Paranoia. I met a lot of interesting people. But only a few of them became permanent friends.