Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Cottage on East 20th at the Alley

Certainly I moved into the cottage, at 1460 1/2 East 20th Avenue, where the alley divided the block, just south of the UO campus, but the full width of the campus from the Architecture and Allied Arts building (which by chance happened to be named for someone with the same last name as mine) where I taught, when I no longer had to shop on foot, in the absence of much public transportation, when I had a car: I had the red 1963 Beetle by then, for that reason and because I needed it to go visiting, too. I have no photographs of the cottage, and it is not visible on the satellite photo of the block in Google Earth. I did buy my first Nikon F, in 1965, when I was there: I remember taking a test roll of black and white film with it in and around the cottage. As usual, with any new camera, my first pictures were poor, except for optical superiority of a good Nikon lens, but I don't have any of them now.
Measuring mentally, I can say that the cottage, on a concrete slab, was about 40 feet wide and 20 feet deep, with living space reduced by the 10' X 20' garage at the west end. It was meager in design, a feature of Oregon houses, but extremely so. Minimal sills, minimal overhangs, minimal stoop for a door mat, linoleum tile floors throughout. A living room, which also held the oil-burning furnace, and a kitchen were across the front, looking out on my landlady's back lawn (one interesting thing about Oregon, I thought, was that in the Spring robins actually did pull very long earthworms out of the earth, just as in picture books of my early childhood). The rear rooms (and having measured the "study", the NW corner room, for bookcases, I now use it to estimate the total living space) were only 8 feet deep. The landlady said the small room had been intended as a starter nursery; I put a student desk and some book cases in it; for the first time I had a separate room for a study at home. The rest of the rear was a bathroom and a bedroom. I remember that I did not have a bed frame but just a mattress on box springs on the floor. Having no raised foundation, the cottage had windows only about 30 inches from earth to sill on the exterior; I put screws in for security and usually had the kitchen window open just high enough for Croesus the Cat. The landlady said his muddy feet (and Oregon is muddy) were staining the white paint, so I took a cloth, merely dampened, and gently wiped off the mud, to show her that she needn't worry. She didn't like the cat, because, when her short-legged dog chased him, Croesus just turned around in the corner of the yard and welcomed the dog to 20 sharp claws, sending him yiping (and giving him a wide berth thereafter). I remember her new car, too, a brand-new first edition Ford Mustang, now regarded as a classic, but merely pseudo-snazzy to my Berkeleyan inverse snobbery. No, I didn't tell her so. Yes, I always have regarded the Mustang as a middle-aged lady's sports car.
In any case, the cottage was my first free-standing residence, and it did permit me to play music without sharing it with the unappreciative, and it did garage my car. A student in architecture who played violin brought it and played it in the front room. Until you have heard a violin in a concrete-floor, 7-foot ceiling structure, you have no idea of how loud it actually is.
The cottage had one visual amenity. I had the kabuki-theater colors corduroy curtains that accompanied me from 2308 Haste in Berkeley, when my friend C. let me have the apartment for which they were made, to every place I lived in through to my first real house on E. 32nd Street in South Eugene.
My sister Lorna and her family, I'm almost sure, visited the cottage once; I remember the boys on the lawn. Writing this, I realize that I am not sure of the dates. Part of my life, which I thought of as making up for having had no adolescence (which, of course, is not true, but I had no adolescent 'social life') and which by the 1980s I regarded as typically Thirty-Something (even though I saw that TV program only once, I got the idea), took place in the cottage. Since nothing I did was illegal or even interesting and did not keep me from earning tenure, I am leaving all of it out of this blog; I merely assert that it was like everyone else's. I was ashamed of one episode, for all the typical reasons.
I already have spoken of my colleagues, whom I regarded highly. My colleague, Dean Mackenzie, who had been the teaching assistant when I started Art History at Berkeley, was now at Eugene, and, as professor emeritus, he still is there. But the cottage was no place to entertain, however simply, and generally evening parties in Eugene were for sets of married couples.