Welcome to PSU’s Heartbreak Hotel

Towering over the rest of the Portland State campus is a monolithic yellowish-colored building with a reputation combining the most notorious qualities of a juvenile detention center, a Bangkok massage parlor and a Long Beach tweeker pad. It is called the Ondine, but it’s more commonly referred to as the Ghetto. In an ideal location two blocks from most classes and right across the street from the Cheerful Tortoise, it lures hundreds of PSU students a year into its odd-smelling halls.

The Ghetto has fourteen floors. There is a “15th floor,” but this is only because there is no 13th floor. A 13th floor would be bad luck, supposedly. When you live here you need all the luck you can get. The place is cursed, but by what, nobody knows. Maybe it was the bum who fell off the 15th floor fire escape trying to carry his 70-pound dog up to the roof. Maybe it is some alcoholic on the fourth floor whose body still has not been found. Regardless, it pays to be prepared for any kind of calamity, whether it be a fire or a flood or large foreign objects being tossed out of a top-story window. Don’t park too close.

The Ondine is a Philip Morris marketer’s dream. Even now, with the weather getting colder every day, you can find a multitude of cancer fiends out on the front porch getting their fix. There is really no need to buy a pack; hanging out on the bench downstairs will get you all the secondhand smoke you need. People seem to be smoking even more this year than they were last year, because the homeless people who come by periodically and poke through the ashtray looking for a good butt can’t empty it out faster than it fills up anymore. If there were a cigarette vending machine in the lobby it would make more money than three Vegas slot machines on a Saturday night.

Ondine has its own slot machines, of course. They are called pop machines. On the rare occasions when they actually dispense a pop, it is still the luck of the draw whether you get 5, 10, 15 or zero cents back in change. Also, the 12th floor machine has a tendency to vend drinks that are not even listed on the display. I am not sure gambling is a service that should be offered to dorm residents.

The place quiets down a bit over the summer–yes, even downtown Portland can be slow. Toward the middle of August, I was actually looking forward for school to start again, normally considered a sure sign of not getting enough oxygen to the brain. I just wanted more people to be back in town so things would be a little more lively, even though I knew the horrendous trauma of having to attend classes would return as well.

Of course, one of the main reasons Ondine is so dead during the summer is that no one lives on the infamous Freshman Experience floors during that time. These are located on the third, fourth and part of the fifth floor. They don’t have kitchens like the other floors, but who leaves home for their first year of college knowing how to cook anyway? Included in the Freshman Experience rent is meal plan money for dinner every day at the Smith Center. This postpones, at least for one year, the inevitable horror of Top Ramen and dry cereal.

So far this fall, the freshman floors haven’t been living up to their reputation from last year, when the third floor was like an indoor Woodstock. You know–mudslides, psychedelic freakouts, rioting, and a constant haze of smoke in the air. There have been a few windows kicked out, but it is still nothing like the old days. This year the Resident Advisers must be breathing a sigh of relief.

Resident managers are much more laid back here than at many colleges, like my former school, Oregon State. They won’t actually come drink at your party like some of the ones from last year, but they won’t go out of their way to hassle you unless you are flaunting an illicit lifestyle in front of their noses, i.e. rolling a keg past their door or asking if they would like to buy some black tar heroin.

I think part of the reason the froshie floors do not seem quite as rank this year is that their flophouse aura has spread to the other floors. Last year when you walked down the third floor hall, you had to step around week-old pizza smashed into the carpet, ceiling tiles, electrical wiring hanging down from where the tiles used to be, puke, dead hookers, etc., but now it seems like every floor is like that. As last year’s freshmen have migrated to other areas of the building, so has the Trainspotting school of interior design. The custodians definitely deserve a raise.

So, are you looking for a true taste of Portland? Don’t want to spend too much money? Have no sense of hearing or smell? It is time you plunked down your 364 bucks (plus deposit) and moved in to join the fun.