There’s a song by Barenaked Ladies that, for the twenty years plus that I have known it, challenged me to interpret. It’s one of those songs that means something different depending on how you come at it. Well, most their songs are like that but this one in particular … Let me just get to the point. It’s called “Old Apartment” and it tells the story of a guy who visits where he used to live, then breaks in to have a look around simply because “this is where we used to live”. It mixes the act of breaking in with the nostalgia of what he found: “Broken Glass, Broke and Hungry, Broken Hearts and Broken Bones.” It challenges the unnamed (and likely not there) current owner of what they did “Why did you change paint the walls, why did you change the floors, why did you plaster over the hole in the wall — this is where we used to live.”
Today, I drove by a house on North Crestway in Wichita. The last time I was on Crestway, I was packing up a rental car to head to the airport, to head to Alaska.
This is where I used to live.
Now, I didn’t break in, I didn’t tear the phone out of the wall – and there wasn’t an old neighbor downstairs to make angry by stomping on the floor just for fun. Heck, I barely slowed the car down as I went by. I was tempted to stop, talk a little, get to know what it was like to live there now.
That house was my house. That is where I lived for ten years. I brewed beer there, lost myself into online gaming, and nearly burnt it down on at least two occasions, maybe three if you count the fried ice cream. The colors of the house … I chose them, still sporting the Cadet Maroon trim with Khaki to match the pants. The plants my mom gave me, packed in a diaper to keep the root ball moist, are still about the only thing that blooms in the front garden. The crappy window shades still hang. And it seemed like every other house up and down Crestway is what it was back nearly three years ago when I left it. To quote that same song, “only memories, blending into dull tableaux”.
Well before I bought this old house, I remember having a good discussion on this “Old Apartment” song with Eric Glitzier. He stood by, at the time, that the song was about a pained man who wants to go back when he was truly happy – back when he lived in that old apartment, complete with its crooked landlord. “I want them back” he kept repeating. Not just the dishracks or the moustrap; but the life. I wasn’t sold — because there is a key turn in the song at the bridge. It goes: “I know we don’t live here anymore, we bought an old house on the Danforth, She Loves Me and her Body Keeps me Warm, I’m happy yeah”. It’s blunt, but it comes down to a single point – life is better now than it used to be.
Today, though, I got the rest of it, got what he really wanted by breaking into his old apartment. Those memories, those fading memories, they start to go grey. They tend to just blend together. Ten years become something like a few stories and a bunch of random moments mushed together to just all the same sameness. “Fading memories blending into dull tableaux” – and that’s something I would want back.