Friday, July 16, 2010
The Pirate across the Street
For ten months of the year, I live in Midtown Atlanta, in a building that, until recently, housed a person who is now an international fugitive, and where, each spring, I can look out of my window and watch men in various shades of lavender passing by for the Purple Dress Parade. For the other two months, I live in St. Johns, a community in the northern part of Portland, Oregon, which, I’m here to say, is even weirder than Midtown Atlanta.
St. Johns (note the lack of apostrophe which no one can seem to explain) was named after James John who, in 1865, laid out the original town on the tip of the peninsula created where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers converge. Most stories report that the Saint part of the name came to be because old Jimmie John, a recluse, was one of the few men who didn’t frequent the local brothel in those early days.
But enough about history and back to now. As I’ve already reported, St. Johns has its very own one-legged Elvis impersonator. In addition, there’s the local schizophrenic people call the Telephone Man, so named because he stops at each of the few remaining pay telephone booths in town to “talk” to Sharon Osborne about her Diet Coke needs. There’s also a guy who meanders up and down Smith Street each day, reading the very same very thick book, and another fellow who walks around town sporting a giant iguana that sits on the back of his neck. And then there’s the pirate who lives across the street from me.
I chose St. Johns for my second home because it's close to one of my children (and just about a 20 minute drive to my other) and because it’s a place where I can survive without a car. Lombard Street, which is St. Johns' main drag, is two blocks from me, two easy blocks, not Atlanta blocks. There’s a grocery store and pharmacy in town; there are several restaurants; there’s a library one block from me, and three playgrounds within a half block either way. There’s also an antique store where I bought my kitchen table and my bedroom dresser, and an Enterprise Rental place close enough for me to walk to in order to pick up a car should I decide to rent one.
I've related some of the good things about St. Johns and there are lots more, but it also has its seedy side. Two rocking chairs and my grandson’s bike were recently stolen from my daughter’s front porch and it seems that a drunken prostitute one time threw up in my son-in-law’s car, which was parked in front of their house. Of course, none of that sounds much different from Midtown Atlanta.
But nothing of the above, the good, the bad, and the ugly, compares to having my very own pirate living across the street. I know he’s a pirate because he flies a pirate flag from his home’s yardarm, and his pirate rowboat is moored on his front lawn.
He appears to be a very nice pirate, and hard working. He leaves each morning in his haphazardly painted truck and comes back each afternoon after doing what I imagine to be some kind of construction work. He grows roses in his garden and even offered a pretty red one to my son as he was going to his car one afternoon after visiting me. My pirate would most likely be found wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt, rather than a tricorn hat and knee breeches, but, then again, he might save those for St. Johns’ very own Pirate Festival, which I will have to miss since it occurs in September.
Because St. Johns offers just about the last affordable housing in Portland proper, quite a few young families are deciding to make the move here. I have to say I admire these current-day pioneers, people who see this odd place as a good place, a place where they can raise their children and make an imprint and a difference. They could, instead, be living in planned communities where everyone looks the same, with the same thoughts and attitudes, with everything new and nothing different. I'm sure those places feel safer than the grittiness of St. Johns, a place that, at times, reminds us that life can be hard.
But the longer I live, the more I know that, while we don't want to go around looking for trouble, difficulties and despair can find us at most any time, in any place. We can't insulate ourselves from the cares of the world, and living a careful life won't keep hard times from coming our way. Bikes get stolen and hearts get broken, no matter how carefully we plan, no matter how hard we try to protect ourselves and those we love. So, we might as well spend some time in an interesting place like St. Johns where we can, at least, have someone like a pirate living across the street.
It's enough to make you say ARRRGH.