Memory Lane

by Tom Swift


I believe in those days the place was called Williamsburg Estates. Irony is fun.

The white columns face the stoplight where France Avenue ends, where St. Louis Park meets Minneapolis, just west of the lake that at that time was called Calhoun.

I recall the maintenance man greeting me during my move-in: “welcome to the property,” he said, warmly. He wore a tool belt. He was due for his annual dental exam.

The woman next door was young, too, but slightly older than me. She was pretty. She had a baby. In the few times we had interaction I remember her once standing outside her own door with a glass of champagne in her hand. Possibly it was wine. I don’t recall why we both had reason to be outside our apartments, yet in the hallway, and say hey. False fire alarm or something. Maybe it was New Year’s.

Between my building and another in the Estates sat a lovely parking lot. My girlfriend at the time once opened the window of my second (third?) story place with a nice view of that parking lot and summoned me to the bedroom. It was unusual for her to do such a thing. Here I am not talking about the window. I thought she might be the one. I thought a lot of things. We had lasted past my college graduation but we would not make it past the time when I would move out of the Estates.

I lived there maybe a year. (Actually, hmm, I think I had signed a nine-month lease.)

I don’t recall hanging much on the walls. I do recall shadows from the meager light in the place. Had one of those fluorescent tower lamps and that was pretty much it.

I worked part-time as a sportswriter in Robbinsdale. Soon I got a full-time news gig within the same company and shifted to the Bloomington office. There was a co-ed who worked in production who had fire-red hair and green eyes. She was easy to talk to — and not hard to look at. She visited me in the Estates once. I believe a movie was on.

For some months I also worked 10 or so hours a week at the Barnes & Noble down the street. My name appeared on the employee newsletter one time, in the section on imminent departures. Except I had not given notice. I soon would. Maybe all those readers could read me better than I could read myself.

One of the guys I worked with at the B&N also worked for a local dial-up Internet service provider. I remember being certain that of all the people I might talk to when I called the customer service line I got him. I didn’t understand what was wrong with my service. Probably still wouldn’t. Possibly I just needed help getting setup. (A common refrain in those days.) My impression was that he knew it was me and I knew it was him but neither of us acknowledged this fact.

Around this time, maybe on the same day, I had a memorable confrontation with anxiety. It started in the apartment’s lone bedroom. Sun came through the window. It was late morning. This was different than any nervousness I had felt before the usual things that make you nervous: a test, being called on in class and not having the answer, dating. I am not sure what sparked it. Or what I was nervous about. Existential angst of some sort. But for a hot minute there I didn’t know what was going on. I was at the table on which sat the computer dialed into the Internet. I remember involuntarily going into the small bathroom. Except I didn’t need to use the bathroom. Why the bathroom? Not sure. Anxiety is anathema to clarity. Maybe I just needed to move. There were only a few hundred square feet in which to do that and remain contained from the rest of the world. And it would not have occurred to me to at that time to share my vulnerability. Young adulthood is not an uncommon time for stuff to surface, as I understand it. This makes sense: you are untethered for the first time. Freedom is sexy and scary at the same time.

From that parking lot it took forever to get to the nearest grocery store. Or so it seemed. So many stoplights. So much traffic. I probably went on weekdays when I should have gone on weekends. A Rainbow, if I am not mistaken, is where I shopped. Near Knollwood Mall. Or thereabouts. (Memory over top memory: I surprised the redhead from work at Knollwood once. Not sure why she was there. But she told me she would be and she was really happy that I did that. You could see it in her green eyes. One thing I am grateful for is an ability to pleasantly surprise people.)

After work on weekdays, I would come home and listen to the local sports talk radio station and eat — either fast food or food made fast in my small kitchen. I recall doing this one time in particular when it must have been winter because it was already pitch-dark and the show started at 3 o’clock or something like that. I laid down in the dark, just outside those shadows on the walls, which flickered when cars pulled into the lot, and took mental notes. I was stimulated and melancholy at the same time. I wanted to be a sportswriter at a major newspaper. I had no idea how this was going to happen.

Often lacking groceries, I frequented a Chinese takeout down the near side of the street. There was a Lincoln Dell, too, on the opposite side. A small kosher grocer sat immediately across the avenue. Four short aisles, I recall. I am sure I went in and asked for something they wouldn’t have. (I knew nothing of the Jewish tradition at that time. I recall walking past an open apartment door in our building once, where some Hasidic Jews lived. There was even less on their walls. A candle burned. They had shadows, too.)

These places are gone now, I see, as my little buddy and I happened by the old haunt the other day.