I love(d) you just the way you (were)
I don’t like change.
And it’s not just because I’m turning into an old fart. I’ve always been an old fart. When all the other kids in my kindergarten class were running around, frolicking on the playground, I was standing with my arms crossed and brow furrowed, muttering, “But I liked the monkey bars where they were.”
Living in present-day Portland is not so good for someone who doesn’t like change. Honestly, every time I make that five-minute, 500-light-year trek across Tukeys Bridge to the peninsula, I have to brace myself for the next new big-box behemoth (“But we sell organic crap, so it’s OK!”) that has gone up, or the latest unfortunate dump (I happen to be fond of dumps) that’s been razed. Throughout the nearly three years since John and I were priced off the Hill, bought our house and moved to the ‘burbs, I have lamented and bemoaned the fact I had to leave my beloved Portland peninsula.
“Exiled!” I’d cry, when acquaintances mentioned they hadn’t seen me around. “Dull,” I would say, when someone wanted to know what life out here was like. “I’m an -03!” I’d wail to the clerks in Station A regarding my new zip code, having had to sacrifice my double -01’s (home and office) in the move.
And why was I at Station A? Because the ‘burbs don’t have a post office, unless you call the rear window at the Ocean Avenue Rite Aid a post office, which I do not. One should not be able to purchase hair-removal products and birth control at the P.O. And while I’m at it, when’s the last time you saw a mailbox out here? There’s one in front of the Cumberland Farms on Washington Avenue that looks like it hasn’t been visited since I was mailing fan letters to the Banana Splits. You think I’m going to post a credit card bill there? No, I am not. Having neither post offices nor mail boxes where people actually live and need them are changes that have me, well, P.O.-ed.
Especially alarming is all the development on the Eastern Prom. I remember before I moved there, during my West End days in the ’80s and ’90s, how remote and dangerous that side of town seemed. It was peopled largely by thugs on the Hill, old ladies in “grandma houses,” and social insignificants who lived in rickety old apartment buildings. If, perchance, you were forced to make a social call across town back then, you’d want to travel in numbers.
By the time I moved there, most of the thugs were gone and all those “grandma houses” were being bought up and rehabbed by yuppies (people my age who actually had jobs). And while most of the apartment buildings remained rickety (at least mine was), there was a certain arty/social cachet to living there.
By the time we left, the St. Lawrence Church had been partially restored and opened, there were a couple nice restaurants nearby and a place where you could get a cup of coffee that didn’t taste like a meatball sub, like the coffee did (or so I imagined) at Colucci’s. But there remained a certain shabby funk that made the East End still feel like Portland.
Now, when I drive through my old neighborhood (invariably en route to the post office), I am astounded by how “nice-looking” it is. (In case you didn’t catch my tone, those quotes are pejorative.) Granted, many of the changes have been gradual. All the manses on the Prom have been prettied up and/or condo-ized for some time now. And I guess I’ve grown accustomed to the creepy “Pleasantville” apartment community on North Street (“Hi, honey, I’m home,” “Hi, honey, I’m home,” “Hi, honey, I’m home…”), the new penitentiary (albeit mold-free) Jack Elementary (I can’t bring myself to say East End Community) School, and even that awful condo high-rise that was wedged into a tool-shed-sized lot on upper Fore Street.
But the thing that seemed to keep the East End grounded was the fact there were still a few downright derelict apartment buildings fronting the Prom, dumps that reminded me of happier, grittier days in Portland’s history. Now some stupid developer is going at them, installing stupid windows that look like portholes and, no doubt, prefab interiors with faux-granite countertops and gas fireplaces. The developer is probably selling these units for $350,000, forcing people who deserve to live there out into the ‘burbs. ‘Tis a fowl wind of change what blows across our land.
So as I was standing in the middle of our pokey little street, in our funny little neighborhood, right before the holidays, critically eyeing the hanging of our first-ever, store-purchased Christmas wreaths on the front of our house (“down a little more – no, up – no, over”) while John teetered (“wait, no – back where you had it”) on a ladder, I had something of a revelation. I was thinking how my beloved peninsula doesn’t feel so beloved to me anymore.
Sometimes when I’m driving around the Prom and see all that fussily painted trim and all those big vehicles tucked into driveways, I imagine this is what Portland would look like if it were in, say, South Carolina or Virginia (which, due to global warming, is perhaps what Maine is becoming – the new mid-Atlantic). I think of how there are probably men strolling around up there in Izod golf sweaters and plaid pants, and women with yappy dogs in purses trying to get a table at The Blue Spoon on Sunday mornings.
And then I think of our new neighborhood, and how there’s no place to get a drinkable cup of coffee anywhere nearby, yet how even after the development money has moved through this part of town, how happily unchanged things have remained and how, well, happy I am to be here.
What’s this? Me, defending life in the ‘burbs? Me, of the back alley and dark underbelly, content in a little bungalow with a front porch festooned with crooked wreaths? Could it be that I’m finally coming to terms with a Portland that no longer exists and, further, a me – gasp – that no longer exists?
It seems we all are subject to change.
Elizabeth Peavey is perfect and thus has no New Year’s resolutions. The rest of you? Get to work.