I GREW UP in the suburbs of Portland in the late 1960s, back when the city was just beginning to reach tentative fingers into rural locales with exotic names like Beaverton, Tigard and Metzger. My best friend lived next door in a daylight ranch with four brothers, a black lab and her impossibly groovy parents. We called them the Brady Bunch. My family, being far more musical, were the Partridges. Mom was even prone to burst into impromptu musical theater numbers while we barreled through the streets of Beaverton in our canary-yellow station wagon.
Every night, the neighborhood kids would gather at the top of my street astride Big Wheels and Stingrays to burn a path down the freshly paved asphalt, past freshly constructed street signs and freshly shingled homes, into the sunset.
But somehow I never felt quite as perfect as my surroundings. My bangs were always crooked; instead of shaking a tambourine like Shirley Partridge, my mom shook a martini; and I spent my evenings fantasizing about living in a mud hut in deepest Africa—anywhere but the ’burbs. I often imagined that my neighbors, upon learning these terrible truths about me, would point at me and scream, as though I were one of the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, at which point the smooth asphalt would pucker and swell beneath my Keds, rise in a tar-coated, lavalike ooze, and then spit me forth like the boil on the ass of the suburbs that I truly was.
Yeah, I was an odd kid.
Which is why, when I grew up and married my equally unconventional suburban sweetheart, we couldn’t wait to escape.
In 1986, yearning for the diversity, stimulation and anonymity of the city, we chose an apartment five minutes from Portland’s downtown. My husband worked for a theater company on a stretch of NW Couch Street that was affectionately referred to by locals as Needle Alley. I worked at a now-defunct business college in the Pittock Block and enjoyed an office overlooking a quaint commons known as Needle Park, owing to the contingent of tar-heroin addicts who recreated there. Like a pack of junkie Easter Bunnies, each night they’d leave hypodermic needles for us to find the next morning.
At first my husband and I, being young and fearless, were determined to fully embrace the seamy side of Portland. But as the 1980s came to a close, we decided to start a family, and cringed at the prospect of raising a child in the city. We imagined little Billy playing Hypodermic Needle Hopscotch or Hobo Hide-and-Seek. It was time to face it: We were suburban babes at heart, and while we could play the part of savvy and “street,” deep down, we were neither. Beneath our bravado, the Big City paralyzed us, and so there came a day when we couldn’t flee fast enough.
In the fall of 1988, we settled into the hippie burg of Multnomah Village. While technically the suburbs, the Village was host to a thriving artistic community boasting antique shops and galleries overflowing with stained glass and pottery. With all of this only five minutes from downtown, it seemed an idyllic place to feather our nest. We’d found our nirvana.
Then we met… the Neighbors.