Pandemic Diary 4: The Streets Where I Lived

A small major detail from my life history has left my brain: the second address in which I lived.

A look at the map of the neighborhood and its suburban collection of descriptive names, which do not correspond to any physical reality—”Meadowview?” If one has sight, everything is a view, but is every front lawn a meadow? “Saddlerock?” Why is every street name in that development composed of three unrelated syllables?—triggers no memory. I remember the home, but I could not find it on the map, so do I remember it? I think I typed its name above, but the great American tradition of picturesque suburban street names concealed it from me in the uniqueness it shares with all the other road names around it. The names are each alike in their uniqueness.

Either my mom or sister will supply me with the name today, pretty much the moment after I publish this, but the absence of the name is not from a broken brain as much as it is from the sheer number of addresses I have registered with the U.S. Post Office through the years. One of the addresses was bound to be completely absent. Some I do not remember the number, others, I no longer recall whether the address was or is a Street, Road, Drive, Boulevard, or something more evocative of a pretty place, like Terrace or Lane. Or Place. I used Google Maps to supply me with the correct designations for those I remembered the name but little else.

By my count, I reside in the nineteenth address I have called home. The ratio of number of times I have moved to how little I know about what one needs to know when one moves is criminal. (Ask my friends who have helped me move.)

And there were two summers many years ago in which I did not have an official residence, which is a form of homelessness, I guess, but I always had friends who had me stay with them. I would never compare those couch-surfing seasons with the experiences one associates with homelessness.

The surveyors and land developers among us may know the differences between streets, roads, avenues. In Manhattan, the avenues traverse the island north and south, and the streets cross the avenues east and west. One would be forgiven if one thought that this constituted a rule of urban nomenclature; I grew up close enough to New York City that I understood its geography long before I had breathed its air, so I thought that avenues were north and south in their orientation and streets east and west … until I noticed that this rule applied nowhere else.

I have lived on one avenue thus far: First Avenue in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In that city, and in many others in the Midwest, a compass-point letter follows the word “street” or “avenue” to designate in which specific quadrant one resides in the city. I lived at 504 First Avenue NE, for the northeast. It was far west of anywhere I had ever lived before, but my personal geography was unimportant to Cedar Rapids when it named its streets. Directly across First Avenue from my apartment, the buildings were SE, which felt important: I am from New York, the northeast. That “NE” felt deeper than it in fact was.

Six of my addresses have been streets, three roads, three drives, and there have been two state routes. There is a four-way tie among boulevard, terrace, avenue, and lane for one apiece. And there is the great unknown one: the second address in which I ever resided.

There are two “Main Streets.” One is West Main Street on Cape Cod, which of course is the address farthest east that I have yet lived. (As a New Yorker, if I ever live in Florida the address is destined to have the word “north” in it, if this pattern is to remain consistent.) The other Main Street was in a town so small that any street within its boundaries could have been named Main Street.

That street gave me my two, albeit tiny, experiences of fame. I had been hired as assistant editor for the local newspaper, so my name and photograph had been published on the front page. As I walked to the post office to rent my post office box on my first morning as a new resident in my new town, people whom I had not yet met greeted me by name as we passed on the sidewalk. It was friendly, not unpleasant, but weird nonetheless.

The other experience was not friendly and a little blood-curling. Both my newspaper office and my apartment were on Main Street. There was one bar in the town around the corner from where I lived and worked, and late one night, a disagreement spilled out onto the street. I was alone in the newspaper office, about to leave for the night. I had turned the lights out and was at the door. The commotion outside stopped me, and I watched aghast as I saw one fighter suddenly bend over at a bizarre angle: he had been stabbed. Before I got to the phone to call the police, the police arrived. The injury was minor and the knifer was taken into custody. I stepped outside, interviewed the police, published a story.

A few nights later, I was in my apartment, two doors down Main Street from the office. Late one night, there was a commotion in the street below, and I looked out my second-floor window: it was the same group I had witnessed the previous week. I heard one of them say: “Cool it. That hack lives up there,” and he pointed directly up and at my window. (Behind my blinds, I was not visible to them, but I felt naked suddenly.)

I never learned how the individual learned where the reporter who had seen the stabbing incident resided. That detail, my address, I had not published. It was a tiny town (500 population) and I was not merely a neighbor, I was a neighbor whose name happened to be on the front page of the paper each week with a byline. At first, I was thrilled to have been called a “hack.” Being a young reporter, it felt like fame of a sort. I worked hard to remain willfully naive. It was later that I realized that it was a quick glimpse into being slightly more vulnerable than I wanted to be.

Nineteen addresses. I have similarly detailed stories about each one of them, except for one detail: I can not remember the name of the second street where I lived.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 4 asks us to reflect on the word, “Street.”

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