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.
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.”
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.)
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.”
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.
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.