Saturday, May 4, 2013

Escalona Daze

The grass tickles the back of my legs as I flex my toes, stretching out my feet. I am too long for my entire body to fit on the floral scarf I have thrown on the ground. My hands are behind my head, acting as a make-shift pillow, with eyes closed and a face offered to the sun.  Thievery Corporation's "Amerimacka" slides into my ears and fills my head, taking me away to another time, another place. It reminds me of times I took for granted. Times I didn't appreciate in the moment, that would eventually come to an end, as everything does. There were so many beautiful moments with beautiful people that flood to the front of my memory as the sun strokes my cheeks and hugs my body on this Spring morning.  

Thievery Corporation reminds me of college years. It reminds me of walking the neighborhoods of Santa Cruz, where the sunflowers grow taller than the residents. Of afternoon strolls down Walnut St., where life-size colorful doll houses line both sides of the street. Memories of taking shortcuts from my best friend's house to the beach, our bags heavy with cheap Mexican beers and overpriced text books we have no intention of reading. It reminds me of campus meadows where I used to lay in my bathing suit, laughing away the afternoon with friends that I will know when I am old. But more than anything, it makes me think of the balcony. 

I used to lean against the paint chipped railing, looking down at the damage from last night's bon fire. I drank beers on the balcony, watching the sun both rise and set. We would set up shitty folding lawn chairs and prop our feet on coolers, relaxing from the stress free lives we were living. During parties, a housemate would always shout down from the balcony to the party below to be quiet. There they would remain while they smoked a cigarette, to calm down, and in a matter of time they too would come join the rest of the party and add to the noise. But on Spring afternoons it was the most peaceful part of the house. From the balcony I could hear the bus I had just missed, as it headed up Bay Street. I could pass all afternoon at this house, doing everything and nothing at all. 

But there was more than just a balcony, there was also a porch. I miss afternoons sitting out front on the filthy couch, drinking tea, coffee, or booze, greeting the many faces of strangers and friends that entered Escalona. The couch had seen better days, days where it was firm in its youth, and didn't sag beneath the weight of your body. There was always an ash tray on the arm rest, an abandoned coffee mug or two beside it, a dampness to the fabric from the morning mist, and a blanket or sleeping bad left from whoever had used it as a bed last. I didn't live in the house, but from the first night I went to see it with my brother, some type of attachment within me grew to love it, as if it were mine. It was the first home I went to when I arrived in Santa Cruz, and it was where I spent the last night before permanently leaving the city after the summer of graduation. 

It was a house full of life. Full of youth. A basement once filled with musty storage boxes of people's belongings, that was then converted to a den filled with music. Brick walls tagged with chalk. Dirt floors beneath our feet. Pillars to lean against, that for now hold up the house. A giant dream catcher from Goodwill that blew in a breeze that never passed through the sealed area.  

It was a home to many before and after us. It was a rotating door into a space for a student community to grow.  The majority of the time I lived in Santa Cruz I lived in campus housing, and I found my own living environment to be sterile and foreign. There was no character to the apartments I lived in. There was no wear, no history, no personality. They were like newly planted trees in a park, young and without damage, unlike the older trees, their trunks covered in years carvings of names, dates and hearts. The campus apartments always lacked the life and energy that I found at Escalona. 

(bathroom barbers- drinks and haircuts from one housemate to another)

The house was always in a state of transition. It was fluid and without borders or boundaries. Things were always coming in that were to be left there for eternity, and things you left there were always disappearing. At one time there wasn't enough furniture for everyone to sit when we would have our dinner parties, and at another time there was so much excess furniture that it was being sacrificed to the fire as fuel. Other types of residents called it home as well. There were the mannequins who had misplaced their clothing, who stood guard in the yard, and a line of Homie dolls that held their territory over the fire place.

The walls were covered in an odd assortment of art and any decoration that people found a way to tack up. The house was never really clean, but because I didn't actually live there, I guess it never bothered me. The bathrooms were always wet from someone recently getting out of the shower, none of the drains worked properly, and the towels were always damp and made your hands smell weird. The kitchen was littered with notes reminding housemates to clean up their mess, but yet always a sink full of dishes.  The yard was in a permanent state of progress as each resident started a new project that was never to be seen through. I saw at least thirty people live in that house during the two years my brother resided there.  With each new resident, came a new life and new ideas of how they would add to the house. How they would make it their home. 

                                      ( Collecting more useless junk for Escalona )

.......I remember the very first night my brother and I went to look at the house before he moved in. Somehow he knew one of the roommates, a student in his late 20s, who ended up giving us the welcome tour. He was an eccentric character to say the least, who talked longer and faster more than anyone I had ever met, the entire time his tongue ring catching the glare from the lights above. At one point he asked my brother to spot him, while he stood on a piece of furniture to install a surround sound speaker to the corner where the wall meets the ceiling. He was wearing nothing but tiny silk exercise shorts, and had my brother place his hands on the back of his muscular legs, so that his ass was literally at face level. He then proceeded to fart in my brother's face, and continued as if nothing had happened. On another occasion, after a night of partying, he accused my brother of eating his 40 piece set of chicken wings he had bought that day. The had disappeared from the fridge the night before, and as the majority of the house was vegetarians he assumed he ate them. The tray, with all 40 bones, was later found in the bathroom cabinet under the sink, when the housemates were cleaning up from the party. Turns out someone had taken them into the bathroom to eat in private, or maybe with a few friends. This roommate was later voted out by the rest of the house, for continuously doing flaming Dr. Peppers at parties after being requested not to, for fear of burning down the house. This was despite the fact that he assured everyone he was a trained fire fighter (along with a trained karate master and a trained race car driving instructor). From that first night meeting him, I knew it was going to be a weird an interesting experience with this house...... 

Before you could get to the balcony you had to pass by the kitchen, where we prepared countless group dinners and morning after brunches. Its cabinets held an assortment of kitchenware and food that had accumulated after being abandoned by previous residents. A kitchen full of unlabeled spices, expired condiments, a fridge that was impossible to find anything in, and shelves labeled for roommates who no longer lived there. The pantry was always overflowing with brown paper bags from Trader Joes, and on the top shelf sat an industrial jar of bartender's cherries, that still remains a mystery as to who bought them and why? The kitchen, the center of a home, lacked organization, but somehow you always knew where the things were you needed to use, and the meals always came out tasty.

(Dance floor/cooking area)

I fell in love with the house on Escalona, and spent many nights there with my first college boyfriend, as we enjoyed the new life we were living away from our Southern California homes.  When our relationship ended at the end of our first year in Santa Cruz, I found comfort in the house, away from him. When my heart was broken and I needed to escape my own bedroom, I slept on their couch and watched stand up comedy with my best friend and my brother. The next year I would date someone who lived there, and spent countless more nights sleeping on the same couch together, a space just big enough for the two of us. I fell in and out of quick romances at Escalona, on the trampoline, around the fire, and on the front porch. It was a place where my brother and his girlfriend lived, a place where my roommate fell in love with her boyfriend, and a house where many other relationships were formed. The house was  a space for love to blossom and play.

I celebrated my twenty-second birthday party at Escalona. I swapped clothes as I was dressed for a rubix cube themed party, and sipped champagne from a fancy glass at a yacht themed party. It was where we went when we wanted to celebrate birthdays, holidays, or just a night of excessive drinking. It was also a place for game nights, both cards and boards, and a place to all watch movies, around a computer screen that was much too small. That house provided a space for substance induced dance parties that lasted until the morning, or nights laying on the trampoline staring at the infinite world above, a thousand glittering spots spread across it. It was the one place in town that will always feel like home, just as it will for many of my friends. Our friendships brought residents into the house, just as friendships were formed between the new residents. 

On a Spring afternoon there was a certain feel to it that will always stay with me, and bring a smile to my face when I think of it. It's the feeling that pulsed through me today, as I lay in a park in Japan, a world away. It's the way the air smells of Spring, and the sun reminds you Summer is on its way, yet you can still feel Winter lingering in the breeze. That's how the balcony felt on days like today. Days that brought me from from campus to Escalona. I would approach the house from the front, where the door was always open. I would climb the patio steps, enter the house and cross the creaking wooden floor, through the dark hallway, as I made my way to the dining area. There I would find the sliding glass door pulled open, and a balcony basking in the sun light. There was always someone sitting at the kitchen table, or someone cooking something they bought at the farmer's market. Against the wall was a trash can labeled "recycle" in my brother's handwriting, overflowing with beer cans and beer boxes. I would pass by the table, step onto the balcony, and lose myself in that moment where the sun is too bright for your eyes. The moment where you readjust to the world around you. When I would open them, I would see all the little details that I miss so much now that they're gone. The beer pong table that sagged towards the middle from rain damage.  The railing where beach towels blew in the wind as the dried from days before. A pair of sandals left next to a bottle of tanning lotion and mat, where someone was sunbathing. The view of the neighbor's pool that we were all envious of. The surrounding yards that were all better maintained than Escalona's. The hammock hanging from two trees in the corner. The formation of sticks that was once going to be some type of Indian teepee/ smoking hut. And the scorched earth from the bonfire pit. The air was always fresh. There was a breath of life in it. A kiss from the sun. The perfect afternoon in Santa Cruz. 

We were young. We were all in love with someone or each other. We were carefree and happy with the lives we were living. We trusted in nothing and believed in everything. We gave ourselves to every passion, every desire, and every impulse. We were living, and this house was our home. Our sanctuary. Our temple of booze, home made dinners, bongs and blunts, spliffs and record players, two dollar bottles of wine and ipods on shuffle, sending music through the screen
windows, out onto the balcony. 

From a laundry room full of bikes and wetsuits, to hall closets jammed with clothing and discarded costumes from thrift stores, to a backyard littered with indoor furniture, a wheel chair, and stolen objects from around town, there was always a chaos to Escalona that seemed to function. Just like the people who lived there, who all called it home. People from all over California, and some from out of state, from all different backgrounds, genders, majors, social classes, sexual orientations, and ages. The house was a cluster fuck, but it worked. It was a chaotic, yet somehow functioning house, and it's afternoons like today that I miss it. That I miss leaning againt the railing, half expecting to get a splinter, letting my eyes close as I drink in the music playing from the record player in the room to my right.  To be in complete love with all that a house can be. To feel comfortable in the space around you. To have a common place you and your friends can call a home. To be in love with not a building, but all the memories it holds.

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