[Originally posted at Rational Rant on 20 October 2009. The largish 1910 house that was then my home has now joined the liquor store in oblivion.]
xhaustion lingers, but I ventured outside today, making it as far north as Lombard to pick up a few grocery-like objects. I had second thoughts as I stood unsteadily at the MAX station, debating whether to commit myself by actually buying a ticket. Something didn’t seem to be right in my immediate environment. There was something wrong, something missing.
It took me a second to figure out what it was. Across the street, where someone is leveling a city block to build an apartment-and-retail complex, a single earth-moving machine stood, claw uplifted. Most of the houses were now gone, even the debris and the naked chimneys that had marked the sites where they had stood for so long had vanished. And that’s when I noticed.
The Ice Cream Store was gone. It hasn’t actually been an ice cream store for decades, but it was one for a long time, certainly throughout my childhood. The old-timers remember it for its fifty-nine flavors; what I remember primarily about it is waiting in the car while my father zipped inside to pick up magazines. The Scientific American, Mad, Galaxy—all these came from there, and I’m sure other magazines I’ve forgotten. When he returned, however, he would come bearing ice cream for my brothers, and a Hershey bar for me (I detest ice cream and always have). It was a treat; it was something we enjoyed, a ritual that rounded off an otherwise-mundane trip.
The geography of childhood is funny. The Safeway I remember as being a bit of a walk from our (then) home is actually just down the block and across one street, though it’s a Harbor Freight today. The Ice Cream Store is—no, was—only a couple of blocks further on, but I remember it as being a long way off. And frankly, most of my memories of it do in fact come from a time when we no longer lived anywhere nearby; we would stop there on our way back from Portland to our home across the river in Vancouver. Maybe that affected my sense of location.
I can remember vividly sitting in the car, the huge neon sign across the front of the store flickering and buzzing, while waiting for my father to return. Looking out across Interstate I could watch cars stopping for gas at a station there. Up from it was an auto repair shop (the sign said it had been in business since 1924); in my memory it is always closed, but of course we stopped by the Ice Cream Store in the evenings. I can’t help but think that I must have some time looked at the largish 1910 house to the other side of the gas station, but I have no memory of that. I certainly never imagined that that was the place I was going to someday own, that my brother’s kids were going to grow up thinking of it as the traditional gathering place for Thanksgiving, that it would become by default the family center.
Now by the time we actually moved here the Ice Cream Store had become something else—I’m not sure what any longer. For awhile it quit being a store of any kind; the display windows were bricked up and the doors turned from glass to steel. For some of that time it was a distribution center for the Portland Oregonian, and most of the activity there went on in the early morning. For the past few years it was a liquor store. Then, this immediate past year, it was a vacant building awaiting destruction. And now, as I stood there at the MAX station, it was just—gone.
“Excuse me, sir, but I'm sixteen cents short for a ticket, and I need to get home.” Real life in the shape of a rather shabby-looking guy, one half of a couple, intruded on my recollections.
I groped in a pocket for change, trying to hold on to the mood, to savor the liminal moment, and thrust a few coins blindly into his hand.
“I’m not a panhandler,” he said, affronted, plucking out an offending dime and nickel too many, and shoving them back at me.
“Okay, whatever,” I said. I really wasn’t feeling up to this. I was committed, though; I’d bought my ticket and was ready to face the consequences. Sort of.
So, yeah, the Ice Cream Store. We didn’t always wait out in the car; that was only when my father was in a hurry and just wanted to pick up a couple of things. Sometimes we’d go inside and look around.
The periodicals there were many and varied. Along the north wall was a rack of magazines my mother always encouraged me not to look at, bearing stories of true crime and degradation, desperate tales of survival, and pieces involving the deaths of large animals. I seem to remember one that advertised in large letters, “The Night Jackie had to Say No To Lyndon.” (I’m sort of hoping that was a takeoff, but at this distance, who can tell?) Under the windows facing Interstate were a variety of puzzle magazines, children and teen stuff, glamour, TV, all like that there. Science magazines, Popular Electronics, that sort of thing seemed to move about more; you had to kind of guess where they would end up. The New Yorker, Atlantic, Saturday Review—
“Excuse me, sir, but here's your four cents.” The shabby Intruder from Reality was back, giving me change from the two dimes he had deigned to accept from me.
“Yeah, okay, thanks,” I said, or words to that effect. I put the coins in my pocket, and tried to disentangle my thoughts again. The Ice Cream Store—old memories—there was nothing there. Literally nothing, in a way—a socket in the ground where Something used to be. It wasn't the Day They Knocked Down The Pallais, exactly, but still—
“Thank you.” It seemed the social transaction was still not over; my new acquaintance was shouting at me halfway across the station. I peered around myopically (I’ve got to get new glasses). “Thank you,” the shout came again. The guy was standing with his lady, glaring at me. His tone demanded a response.
“You're welcome,” I said weakly. Screw it—let the dead past bury its own. “You’re welcome,” I said again, a bit more firmly, and that seemed to satisfy him. The transaction was closed. He turned to face the street where his train was about to pull in and I likewise turned to face my soon-to-arrive train. In the here-and-now I had groceries to pick up.