Der Löffel (The Spoon)

In the neighborhood just north of the University of Washington campus, loosely referred to as Greek Row because of the preponderance of massive and architecturally impressive fraternity and sorority houses in that area, was a medium-sized light blue house that had nothing Greek about it. It belonged to a relative of Kipper’s whose name I remember as David.

The Spoon back in the early '80s. Note the For Sale sign.

In the autumn of 1982, the perfect storm occured: Kipper took a year off from school at the College of Idaho and stayed in Seattle. I announced that I was fleeing the dormitory system with its food credit plan and impossibly loud inmates. And “Cousin David” put his house on the market. Kip fetched me out of the dorm in the Buick Special one day (or maybe the Buick was gone by then and it was his little blue Mitzubishi pick-up truck — take your pick) and told me he had something he wanted me to see. On the way, he alerted me to the fact that David owned this house up on 18th Avenue and was putting it on the market, and did not want it to sit empty, and was willing to let us live in it for $250.00 a month. 

“Now Choo,” said Kip just before he turned into the driveway at number 4726. “Before you look at it, just remember, he’s only charging us two fifty.” I took this to mean that it was a dump, but that it was priced right so that I should repress my initial revulsion, a form of the old “beggars can’t be choosers” adage. When we walked in, my jaw hit the polished hardwood floor and bounced back off the shine. What Kip had meant was, “you won’t believe what we’re getting for just two-hundred and fifty clams.”

A magnanimous host. Kip aporch the Spoon.

A magnanimous host. Kip aporch the Spoon.

It was a beautiful old Craftsman house that had been well maintained and judiciously updated. The kitchen had a gas stove and grill. It had four bedrooms, three up and one down as realtors would now say. There had originally been four upstairs, but two had been joined into one long master across the front of the house and furnished with a woodstove on a brick hearth. The downstairs living room had a fireplace flanked by built-in bookcases and French doors onto a small covered porch. There was a formal dining room for parking bikes in. We had found the ultimate batch pad. Like the tree fort you always wanted, but without the ants. Only rub: we’d have to pick up our underwear when agents came through with potential buyers and we had to live with a realtor lock on the front door. And we had to mow the lawn. I said yes. We moved in.

Kip was good at math, and soon surmised that if we took on a roomie or two, we’d be able to live like princes for less than 65 smackers a month each. We recruited Greg, my erstwhile roomie from Terry Lander dormitory, a student of fish. He was only too willing to live like a prince for less than 65 smackers a month. (Funny side story here: when my old friend Jeff helped me move INTO the dorm, he asked me if I’d yet met my roommate, the person who would share this cramped space with me. I said I had not, didn’t even know his name yet. Both Christians and both raised to be leery of people who were not, we shared at that time a seriousness and a sense of humor about our fundamentalist tenets. Jeff mused, “Just your luck, his name will be Lucifer Judas Cox.” I laughed for about a year. Especially after it turned out to be Greg, nicest guy in the universe and — unless I am abysmally inept at judging people’s character — no spawn of the Pit. In fact, it was Greg who later told me he was alarmed in no small degree when he opened the door of his dorm room for the first time and encountered the huge Sri Lankan flag that occupied the entire wall on my half of the room. It had a rampant lion with a sword on it.) 

Kip and Jeff in a game of intellect and refinement.

Kip and Jeff in a game of intellect and refinement.

When Jeff left his college in Greeley, Colorado, and enrolled at the UW some time later, we had our fourth. Jeff, Kip and I were chums from way back. Jeff and I had known each other since first or second grade, and Kip had come aboard in seventh grade and been the stabilizing angle in the triangle ever since. It would not have taken a wizard to warn us not to room together, but nyah… you gotta do. It was a mistake that I encourage everyone to make.

We called the place the Spoon. We had been deep in anguished brainstorming about just what to call the house. Like naming a baby on the way, the process was full of  sheepish submissions and emphatic vetos. I don’t recall what any of the ideas were. Elaborate, I’m sure, and witty. Finally, Jeff threw his hands up and said, “We could just call it…” he paused to think of something idiotic, making that bilabial roll usually rendered something like “pblppbbll” and then blurted…”the Spoon.”

Silence was.

Then we all started laughing. That became the name of our house. Good times and bad times were had in spades. We got on each other’s nerves. We made a lot of those dehydrated mashed potatoes. Greg put ketchup on every food item that went into his mouth. We played chess and backgammon and didn’t study very much. These were our salad days. We didn’t even know how good we had it. David eventually took the house off the market and jacked the rent, but we just added a fifth and lived like cramped princes. Over time the group changed, but some subset of our gang lived there for more than three years.

Every photo we took was an album cover. I guess Jeff, at left, would be bass, Greg in the middle would have been lead vocal and front man. Kipper looks very lead guitar here at lower right, and I guess my position in back makes me drums. Click for wider and high-res.

Every photo we took was an album cover. I guess Jeff, at left, would be bass, Greg (not L.J.Cox) in the middle would have been lead vocal and front man. Kipper looks very lead guitar here at lower right, and I guess my position in back makes me drums. Click for wider and high-res.

For messages, we taped a spiral notebook to the wall at the bottom of the stairs, where everyone would see it as they walked into the house. “Greg – Holmgrin called again.” This pad became the repository for a lot of extra entertainment, free-association drawings, and idle thoughts, many from visitors. Jeff, Kip and I had all studied German, and we called this pad the Spoonhandle. This was a play on the word “Handel”, which in German means “business” or “traffic”.

I was not a very easy person to live with (I’m sure many would still pick L. J. Cox if you offered me as the second option), and I once blew my top over someone’s dirty dishes, which had been sitting in the sink for a week. After that person had grudgingly cleaned them up or thrown them away, I wrote a little poem on the Spoonhandle. At the time I was taking a class in Arthurian history in which we read Mallory’s Morte d’Artur in old English. My poem went something like this:

“I wolde have left those dishys stonde
Til judgment day bene nigh on honde
And suffered not a word thereto
Until there bene no spoon for stew.
Then sych a doling I wolde make
That everych kingdom wolde awake,
My crie resound in everich hall, 
From Muckle Roe to Torteval!”

This didn’t win me any points with my homies.   




18 Responses to “Der Löffel (The Spoon)”

  1. 1 Kip October 2, 2009 at 05:17

    Ahhhh, the good times. Or, to paraphrase a Jimmy Buffett tune, “…We had good days and bad days, and goin’ half mad days….” What times we had. I hope there are more pictures, and of course, more tales! Didn’t we create our own letters for the house, since we were so close to Greek Row?

  2. 2 Marni October 2, 2009 at 10:20

    I’m smiling. A lot!

  3. 3 jstwndrng October 2, 2009 at 10:40

    Sadly, this is all I have for pictures. Yes, we parodied the Greek system (Marni, comment?) by prominently placing letters of our own crafting on the front of the house. At one time I had a photo of the house with these Elvish runes on it (S,P and F for our last initials) – that was a grand wheeze, listening to people walking down the street and commenting that “they don’t look like Greek letters” – but I have turned the house over and cannot find them anywhere. The fact that I had these few prints suggests that I threw the rest out in a fit of pre-blog “embracing the moment”. There was also the ingenious “Escherian” image we took that had one of us sitting upside right on the couch and another quite upside down at the same time and both seemed gravitationally correct. Took us hours to set it up, remember?, record albums and bottles taped to the wall along with an ashtray with a lit cigarette in it. I think those pictures are in the Archives with the Spoonhandle (bei Jeff).

    • 4 Marni October 2, 2009 at 15:58

      Honey- you go ahead and parody the Greek system all you want. Not gonna hear any criticisms from me on that front; I make fun of it on a rather regular basis, and since I was part of it I get to be really really vicious! I love these stories, especially because while it seems impossible, I don’t think I ever visited y’all there…or if I did, it was once and briefly. How is that possible when I lived just down the road? Oh, that’s right….life sucked then!

      • 5 jstwndrng October 2, 2009 at 16:22

        Actually, I don’t have anything against the Greek system anymore. It was fun to be an outsider and a naysayer when I was young. I’m sure the ones that survived falling off of their upper balconies drunk out of their skulls turned out to be thoughtful, responsible members of society and have probably contributed more thereto than I have. It looked like a negative thing to me then, but I see that they were learning how to give and take, how to join in. That’s now something I envy them. Still, we all have our road. I wouldn’t trade my little pack of non-Greek knuckleheads for anything. Now, if I could just find out what happened to the rest of them.

  4. 6 Louis October 2, 2009 at 10:49

    The legend of the Spoon finally revealed!

    • 7 jstwndrng October 2, 2009 at 11:25

      There’s more. One of us later (note: later) found a wooden spoon in the garden next to the house, under some soil. Much was made of this archaeological discovery. I think that’s in the Archives too.

  5. 8 Louis October 2, 2009 at 15:15

    You sent the spoon to the Smithsonian, right?….right?

    I´m very curious as to what brand of chips Kip is eating in the picture. They appear to be some kind of store brand like Western Family or Blue Bell..

  6. 9 jstwndrng October 2, 2009 at 16:10

    Good eye, Louis. It does look like a generic brand, doesn’t it? And what’s more, a little forensics magic shows us that SOMEbody (not necessarily Kip) opened the bag at the wrong end. The bag is upside down, and when the image is upended — see — you can clearly see the words “Tortilla Strips”. Unfortunately, that’s all that intelligible information the image seems willing to yield. Although if we had that nifty “enhance!” feature that government agencies use in TV thrillers (you know, the one that makes a cricket noise while processing?) we could even tell the exact minute the shot was taken according to Kip’s watch!

  7. 10 Louis October 3, 2009 at 04:43


  8. 11 jstwndrng October 3, 2009 at 08:40

    Honestly, I’m wowed that you remembered Blue Bell. I remember Western Family but Blue Bell is reaching back a ways. Some clue might lie in the fact that our nearest grocery was the Safeway on 50th and Brooklyn, but there was a 7-11 there, too, and then it’s also true our nutritive needs were supplemented by the generosity of our parents. I don’t remember doing a lot of grocery shopping. Possibly we just brought home bags of food from our parents’ kitchens after visits home.

  9. 12 Ben October 3, 2009 at 12:28

    The spoon. How I enjoyed hearing about it. Was fascinated by the idea of my brother and his cohorts having a “flat”. I only graced the threshhold but twice that I remember, the same day Matt and I played hacky with a bunch of strangers on campus. Yes, the legends that remain in my mind over the place.


  10. 13 Kip October 3, 2009 at 17:41

    Ben, you’ve started a story that must continue. I wait for more with baited breath….

  11. 14 jstwndrng October 3, 2009 at 21:32

    I believe the gentlemen in the scene Ben has so vividly drawn have bated THEIR breath in anticipation of learning more, via their eavesdropping, about what this “spoon” can possibly be a codeword for. I always knew there was some kind of funny business going on…the moved vases, the missing sodas, the cherry of a lit cigarette in the darkness across the street…

    • 15 Ben October 6, 2009 at 07:01

      Looking at the photograph on the porch, the membership of the Spoon displayed, one must agree that there is one of the fellowship that appears, what? Shall we say, …in the know. An album cover? Maybe. What about those quiet little trips at night to the “Safeway”? Was the experiment with gravity just for fun, …or was it code?

      • 16 jstwndrng October 6, 2009 at 09:19

        Jeepers, you’re right! And all the while the rest of us were just playing into their…wait…you’re not suggesting I was the…now just a doggone minute!!

  1. 1 Off the old block « Just Wondering Trackback on September 14, 2011 at 17:38
  2. 2 Just growin’ stuff « Just Wondering Trackback on October 2, 2011 at 22:01

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