In the late 80’s, Eric, Erin, and I lived together in a funky old house on Capitol Hill. The house had a distinctive feature: a rounded balcony in the front held up by once-fancy columns. Our odd landlord was reachable only by mail to a P.O. Box in Tacoma so we sent him our rent checks or if something went wrong we’d drop him a note. You might recognize the house from this photo:
We rented the second floor, which featured three bedrooms—actually, a single bedroom and two other rooms with rolling doors that were likely used as living rooms or dining rooms when the house was first built. Our front door opened into a room we called the dining room but the closest it ever came to featuring the kind of furniture one might associate with dining was when we had a ping pong table in there. The room more frequently held bikes, boxes of stuff, or leftover kegs of beer we carted home from catering events.
You could access the balcony through a pair of French doors at the front of the house. The front of the house held a living room too and Eric’s bedroom behind rolling doors. The living room fireplace heated parts of the house in the colder months. I don’t recall ever buying real firewood but we would occasionally purchase one or two of those logs from the grocery store that burned with multi-colored flame or if a piece of furniture looked to be on its last legs, Erin and Eric weren’t above breaking it into pieces to burn. The flat was always cold in the winter because it had a single furnace in the center that burned oil (as I recall) but we might’ve had difficulty at various times keeping the oil stocked. The wiring in the flat wasn’t sophisticated enough to accommodate more than a single space heater so we would take turns heating up our rooms. Using a hair dryer was pretty much out of the question.
The second bedroom with rolling doors opened off the dining room and had three windows that faced an apartment building to the south. The third—and smallest—bedroom at the back of the house had a spectacular view to the west. On a clear day you could see the Space Needle and the Olympic Mountains. The back of the flat had a sun room that faced west as well. You could access the sun room through the kitchen, which had a filthy red linoleum floor, a sketchy fridge, a small gas stove, and a cool pantry. In addition to shelves and cupboards, the pantry had a countertop in front of a window near the telephone—the perfect place to perch for long phone calls. At night the pantry glowed from a beautiful red glass spherical light cover labeled EXIT that Erin swiped from the Frontier Room late one evening after a few too many beers. (I carried that globe around with me from house to house until fairly recently when I returned it to Erin because it was rightfully hers.)
Not long after we moved in, we hosted a housewarming party, but the word got out so the house was flooded with plenty of people we didn’t know. Late in the evening, I stood on the balcony with Erin’s boyfriend, Charles, grumbling about the drunken interlopers clustered on the stoop below. Charles, in an act of idiocy, reached out his hand and tipped his bottle so beer dripped down on the people below. Some number of them clambered up the stairs—or was it the fire escape that ran up the front of the house to the balcony?—and then a rather large guy punched skinny Charles upside his head, which sounds something like a watermelon cracking open. (Don’t worry, he was fine.)
Months later, the night before I moved to Washington DC, Charles took a sweet photo of Erin and me dancing in my empty bedroom.
But I came back to Seattle about six months after I left and eventually moved back in with Eric and Erin.
Above a doorway in the kitchen, Erin (or was it Eric?) propped a beautiful ornate plate decorated with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth as a fairly young woman. The plate tipped precariously against the wall so that when a visitor would comment that it looked like it might be about to fall, we could jump up—the ceilings were fairly high—as if to nudge the plate back into place. Instead we’d send the plate flying and allow it to come crashing to the floor, where it clanked around instead of shattering because the plate was made of metal although it looked like fine china. We (well, I) never tired of that joke.
Like the red globe, I’ve carried this plate with me from house to house since then and we’ve had it propped up above a doorway in our kitchen for the past 18 years still playing the same old trick on unsuspecting guests. I think it’s time to move on to new tricks.
Offering: one beautiful (metal) plate decorated with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth