The one where I fled.

I just finished reading this blog (http://blogs.westword.com/showandtell/2013/01/here_have_denver_its_all_yours.php). It explains, better than I ever could, why I started this blog in the first place. I am not technically a native of Denver, but I moved here as kid, a transplant myself, into a sparkly new house in a sparkly new south suburban subdivision. After living all over Central Denver as a young adult, I moved to my northwest Denver neighborhood where I finally felt the sense of place I lacked growing up. With that very “place” changing every day I feel lost again. Luckily, my village of people has remained steady which keeps me firmly planted for now. Anyway, the Denver I knew even 20 years ago is all but gone, for better and for worse and I think the blog post as noted above explains why that can be unsettling.

That said, another FOR LEASE sign went up today on the street. The very same coffee shop that opened 20 years ago and helped make the local neighborhood and business district what it is today. That coffee shop is moving to another neighborhood in an area that will benefit from having a gathering place in it’s midst. Who knows what will be transplanted in. All I know is that the transplants will benefit from the growth and community that was created by those who came before them. I hope they bring the same appreciation for sense of place that we have all come to love.

Oh, and in regard to the pending construction…there were jackhammers outside my window today. I was forced to to take my jangled nerves and flee my apartment so that I could actually get some work done.

The one with unintended consequences.

I used to park directly behind my building, walk up the stairs to my back deck and enter my apartment from there. Technically, that back parking lot belongs to the church property across the street. When that property was sold, the new owners turned the lot into a pay lot, so I now pull my car into the side lot (that my landlord owns) and enter from the front, off the street through the inside front stairs. Because of this, I miss a whole world of activity happening yards away on the other side of my building.

You see, if i did still park back there, I would have noticed what my neighbor and the employees of the adjacent restaurants already knew—that there was a man living behind a dumpster. I say man, but I really don’t know how old he was because I never saw him. I only saw his sleeping bag, backpack, a bottle full of urine (!) and other belongings scattered behind and around one of the several large, metal trash and recycling containers that line our alley. My neighbor leaves for work early and had nodded hello to him several times and alerted me to his presence, however, as far as I could tell, the man was never there during the day.

I don’t know why his presence struck me as odd, but it did. While our area certainly has a past (and present) of being rough around the edges, and I have experienced a fair share of urban adventures that come with living in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood,  I had never ever seen someone take up residence in our particular alley. I felt sad and scared for him. I also wondered where he came from and why he choose an alley where he would be exposed to constant foot and car traffic and a never ending stream of servers and pizza delivery guys using the alley as their break room…talking on phones, smoking and socializing. Never mind that the alley also feeds onto a business street that is equally active late into the night. I concluded that he probably felt safe there and that, as long as he seemed harmless, then so be it…we had a new neighbor. I could have done without the bottle of urine that peeked out from behind the dumpster, but at least he had the decency not to use the alley as his toilet (which is more than I can say for the folks who don’t clean up after their dogs when they have chosen to relieve themselves on the little patch of green at the bottom of my stairs…but I digress).

I remained curious about his circumstances and often discussed it with my neighbor. I commented that his appearance in the alley seemed to coincide with the fences going up around the property across the way (see my last blog post) and wondered if maybe he had been residing in an outdoor nook around the church.

A few weeks had gone by, and I had been out with some friends. It was 10:30 pm when my friend pulled her car up to the back of my building to drop me off. As I climbed the back stairs to my deck I noticed a figure fiddling with a bike that was attached to the staircase pole.

At first I was startled, but said, “Hey, is that you Grant?” [who works at the eatery next door]
“No”, said the voice, “Grant’s still working inside.”
“Oh, sorry” I said, leaning over the railing into the dark, “I thought you were Grant…or maybe the ‘dumpster guy'”.
“Oh, you didn’t HEAR?”, said the stranger as he unlocked his bike, “About the ‘dumpster guy’?? He was RUN OVER by one of our delivery trucks this morning”.
“WHAT?” I said, completely horrified.
“Yah, his feet and legs were sticking out into the alley and the driver didn’t see him and BAM”
“Oh my god that’s horrible!” I breathed.
Then we exchanged introductions and my new acquaintance rode away on his bike while I ran back to the car to tell my friend the news.

Oddly enough I had, earlier that day, noticed his sleeping bag out of place. It was across the alley and out on the sidewalk. I had a split-second conversation in my head about how, yes, he lives behind a dumpster, but that’s his SPOT. That’s where his STUFF GOES. Why is his sleeping bag out here? Why was someone messing with his stuff? Did he abandon his few belongings and move on? No, he needs his sleeping bag, I thought. It was really cold last night. Hmm. Odd. Then kept walking and moved along with my day. Little did I know.

A smattering of his belongings lingered behind for a week or so then disappeared, and the dumpster was returned to it’s place snug against the yellow brick wall. Rumor in the alley is that the accident resulted in his losing some toes but that he was relatively ok, considering. The other rumor passed from our alley-mates, to my neighbor, then to me, is that the man had previously been “squatting” inside the empty church. When the fences went up, the interior deconstruction started, the workmen discovered him and kicked him—quite literally—to the curb.

I have written a whole entire story about a guy I never even laid eyes on for the purpose of illustrating the unintended consequences of change. I started this blog to share my experiences living in the midst of change.  For all the people in favor of—or hotly opposed to— the changes happening in our neighborhood, I’m sure nobody expected them to result in a man losing his toes. My hope is that any other changes don’t alter unsuspecting lives forever. But I suppose, that is what change is all about.

Dumpster

The dumpster. As seen through my stairs.

The one where I fall down the stairs (again).

I received a call earlier this evening from my friend,  asking if I could go to her house and make sure she blew out a candle. She was on her way to a weekend away to the mountains with her boyfriend and kids, and it occurred to her, an hour into the drive, that she may have forgotten to blow out a little candle in her kitchen. I pick up her kids from school once a week, so I have a key, a familiarity with her house, and nothing better to do this particular Friday night.

While I was driving the less then 5 minutes to her place, I thought about how grateful I am for my village. Just this morning I had driven my friend’s (and client) 2nd grader to to the airport so he could fly to NYC to meet her for fun adventure in the city after her work meeting. He fully trusted me while I picked him up from his grandma’s house and delivered him to the airport to meet the other adult friend who would be his travel companion on the flight. While I assisted her with the long-distance work project at hand, I received word that everyone arrived safe and sound. I felt helpful and proud of him.

Earlier this week, my friend (and client) expressed how glad she was that she could trust me after we spent the entire day handling last-minute logistics for a fundraiser.  And I was glad to meet with the organizer of our local Halloween event about how I could help promote.

As I drove to deal with the “candle situation”, I was thinking about how happy I was to be able to help these people in my village. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am absolutely getting compensated in one way or another for some of this help. However, the fact is, that I would not go above and beyond for people I don’t care about, or for whom I don’t feel would, and have in the past, gone above and beyond for me. I have client relationships and I have friend relationships, and sometimes they are one in the same.

I arrived at her house thinking about how grateful I am for my village, to find that the candle was not still burning.  I decided I should check in the basement bedroom and make sure there wasn’t a candle burning down there. As I made my way down the stairs…BAM…thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.  I slipped and bounced, on my back , down the wooden stairs.  Luckily, I landed on carpet and lay there, semi-crying in pain, and semi-laughing that this had happened again. I have a reputation, you see, for falling down flights of stairs. I even have a nickname “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs”.  If you are familiar with the Ghastlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey it will make sense. If not, Click here.

After a few minutes of writhing on the ground, I realized that my only injury was an elbow scrape and that I would, once again survive this gaff. I also wondered why the universe was punishing me for being helpful. The day before, while babysitting at very same house, the screen door had “attacked” my heel and made it bleed. The day before that, while setting up for the event, I whacked the top of my head full force into a metal bar.

I’m not really sure what my point is. It is something about feeling useful and trusted and grateful in the knowledge that I have folks who would have my back as I have theirs. Or maybe this whole post was just a rambling vehicle to tell you that I fell down the stairs. Again.

The one where I rhyme.

I wrote this poem in 2007-ish.  I was thinking, this morning, about re-posting some things I posted a long time ago on myspace. Yes. It apparently still exists. And guess what? You can sign in with Facebook now. (!?)

Anyway…I really did think about posting this today. Even before The Bloggess posted her poem. I swear. Hers is much more funny though. In fact, mine is not funny at all. Just nice. But before you go there, (after you are done reading MY poem), consider yourself warned. And have a great weekend.

Ode to the ‘Hood
By Amy Norton 2007

This is an ode to a place i call home,
Located not far from where the buffalo roam.

The people, you see, they come from all walks,
Are interesting and fun and live within blocks.

I’m blessed to be surrounded by good coffee and food
A hop and a skip from a much improved mood.

A knock on the door, or a short walk away,
Is a friendly, kind face to brighten my day.

A hand in a blizzard or backyards of fun,
It’s seasons of laughter in snow, rain or sun.

Some they are new friends and some go way back
But we all share the feeling that some people lack,

That we live in a ‘hood much like a small town
A place to belong and feel safe and sound.

Not in the sense that we’re sheltered from fear,
But those that support us could not be more near.

A spouse and kids i don’t have, my possessions are few.
But please know I’m grateful for
You and You and YOU!

The one where I spoke up in front of a group of strangers.

As I have alluded to in previous posts, there is a controversy surrounding my happy little urban island. There is a booming, popular neighborhood, a church, and a lot of empty parking lots. I live smack in the middle. The owners of the church who were actually a religious organization, have sold their property and moved along. The new owners of the the land would like to, as city planners call it “in-fill” the property, i.e. build on the empty parts of the lot to create more density within the city limits. Which is fine, and good, and I get it. However, in this situation, the proposed apartment buildings are rather large and tall and dense compared to the surrounding historic business district and homes. My friend recently used the word “over-fill”. It’s not hard to guess which side of this issue I am on, as this will directly affect the livability of my apartment for many reasons. I won’t go into them here, because I am not trying to convince YOU of anything, I’m just telling my story.

As to not make a long story longer, tonight, for the first time I was able to attend one the of the neighborhood meetings on this issue and the ensuing zoning lawsuit. I chose to speak up at the meeting, not on behalf of my landlord (the owner of my building who also has a business in the building) but rather to gain an understanding as to why he (who is not selling his building/land to the developer and is on their side) is included in the zoning lawsuit.

I HATE talking in front of large groups of people, especially ones I don’t’ know. So I made my neighbor come too. I did ask my question, got a not-fully understandable answer and felt my face flush with sweat for the next 15 minutes of the meeting. I did, however, speak to one of the leaders after the meeting and clarified my question and shared some information that she did not know.

I hope it helps. I hope I did good. I don’t want to have to talk in front of a group of people like that anymore. I think I am still sweating. Or maybe that is my apartment. Did I mention I don’t have air conditioning and it has been the hottest summer on record? Where you live too, huh? Yah, I know, it sucks.

I think Obama is talking on the screen behind me. I will turn it off mute and let you go. But perhaps this has clarified a bit why I have a story to tell, and why I am writing this blog. If it hasn’t, then stay tuned.

P.S. I still don’t live in a palace, but I have decided not to change my header image because this is what my apartment looks like in my head. So it fits.

the one where i should have gotten out of bed.

Some days I wake up and just don’t want to get out of bed. It’s not that I want to sleep. It’s more about the fact that, sometimes, bed seems like the safest place. The place I will, oddly, be most productive. Today is one of those days. It’s Monday. My down comforter has sprung a leak and there are down feathers scattered about. Yet still, I felt that the best option was to ignore the feathers, grab some iced tea, a cat and my laptop and climb back into bed to start in on the goals of the day. And it was working.

Until now.

You see, if I had not climbed back into bed I would not have been at the front window to see and hear The Men. There are group of them. In khaki pants and polo shirts. Holding notebooks. They are sniffing around the church building across the street. Saying things like…ok, not “like”…saying exactly this,  “I can see why they want to tear this thing down. This is prime real estate. And with all the changes that have happened around here.”  The words floated up to my window and stabbed me right here. In my safe, comfy place where I was going to be super-duper productive and let Monday roll right off my back.

Which leads me to more of the back story of why I started this blog. It is not about taking sides. It is about my perspective on living in the midst of change. Right smack in the middle of change. A controversial change, yes. But this blog is not about that. It’s about what I see, hear and experience as the changes happen. The story will become more clear as things develop.

Stay tuned, and Happy Monday!

Amy

The front window. Where all the action in this post happens.

The one where I introduce myself.

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I don’t live in a fancy place. I don’t have the conveniences of a dishwasher, washing machine or dryer. I don’t have an upstairs, a downstairs, a yard full of grass, or a garage to store all my crap.

What I do have, is a landlord who lets me do whatever I want. I have painted my bedroom green, my bathroom blue and my kitchen a bright cheerful orange. I have ripped up the old carpet and spruced up the painted wooden floors underneath. I have an outside deck with a (somewhat cluttered) view of downtown Denver. I have a parking space in a very busy neighborhood. I have the best wine, cheese, books, coffee, beer, pizza, sandwiches, tacos and cupcakes within yards of my front door.

I also don’t have a mortgage, property tax or the “burden” of home ownership.

Which isn’t to say that this isn’t my home.

I have lived through lay offs, heart breaks, stress, anxiety, weight gain, weight loss, weight gain again, more lay offs, following my bliss, changing that bliss, and then giving it all up just to work for myself. Much of this has been possible because of where I live. My rent remains affordable in a “no way, no fair” kind of affordable. And also in an “oh-crap, I-now-don’t-have-a-steady-income-but-I-think-it-will-all-be-ok” kind of affordable. And again, a landlord who is committed to keeping good tenants and looking out for us with a fatherly concern.

What was to be a one- or two-year interim place to live until I found a “real” apartment or could purchase a house, has turned into a 12 year stay. I recently watched “The Fischer King”. As Robin Williams’ awkward girlfriend says, “I always wondered what the apartments above a store looked like. I always walk by and wonder if people really live there.”

I live there. And this is my story.

And no, my place does not look like a palace. I just haven’t changed the default picture yet. (p.s. If you see a photo that does not look like a palace then, yes, I finally have changed my default picture.)