When my granddaughter Vivienne was 3, her preschool teacher asked her what she was going to do the last week before school started.

“We’re going to my Grandma’s house in Vermont,” Viv answered. “She has two bathrooms.”

Even at that age the kid had spatial imagination. Vivienne was describing her grandmother’s house in terms of what was important to her 3-year-old self.

Think of spatial imagination simply this way: We all have it. Space is a vessel that we picture through the filter of our needs, aspirations, fears. And of course through our memories.

Vivienne and her parents live in a lovely but cramped two-bedroom-Brooklyn co-op with just one bathroom. She already felt the consequences of postponed potty with early morning lines to the bathroom.

So in Viv’s perceptions the two bathrooms loomed large, the wide-open spaces. They took on the prominence of a Tesla in a parking lot full of Toyota Tercels.

I’ve been spending a lot of time imagining places. At this stage, those places are retirement homes that my wife and I are looking at as possible places to live.

A new day dawns in Portland. Randy Kashka/Flickr.com

And that puts my spatial imagination into overdrive.

Now when you are making this kind of decision, spatial imagination can be good or bad.

As one spatial theorist put it, “the imagination is a tool for reaching greater understanding of self and other.”

But our imaginations often go wild and lead us off course, like The Temptations’ lyric “it was just my imagination runnin’ away with me.”

I’m a person whose imagination is fueled by almost three-quarters of a century more memories, emotions, and experiences than Viv had when she imagined which living arrangement best met her needs.

Moving to Portland is a push rather than a pull, more a chore than an adventure.

Hawaii offers very limited and expensive alternatives for older people. Too little space, too few choices, too little bang for the buck. Too often aging in place here is not a choice but a default.

And I like Portland.  My daughter lives there, a big plus.

But we’ve lived in Hawaii for close to 50 years, almost all of that time in the same townhouse.

At times living in Hawaii drives me nuts, but still I feel rooted here after almost 50 years.

Considering those tugs and pulls, it is not surprising that entering the retirement building, my first thought as I look around is: “God, these people look old.”

I know. Who did I expect to find, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders?

It’s actually more complicated. As soon as I enter, two just about simultaneous thoughts about oldness take over:

First, “these people look really old, much older than I am. I don’t belong here.”

Second, “But maybe I look as old as they do but just won’t admit it. So I belong here more than I think.”

The double-anxiety-whammy lingers throughout the visit.

Do I really look as old as the folks gathered in the dining room? I hope no but maybe yes.

Is the gym where the dumbbells only go up to 20 pounds really for me? I hope not, but …

This apartment seems okay, but do I really look as old as the couple living in it? Stop it, but still …

I am not saying this is a fair assessment. I am not talking about fairness but about the power of impressions and deep-rooted, runaway imagination.

What kind of putz am I to feel more positive in the absence of people?

A month ago near the end of our most recent Portland visit we heard about a new facility in a suburb about as far from the center of Portland as Hawaii Kai is from Kakaako.

So we made an appointment to visit.

It certainly looked different from any other place we had seen, including the expensive ones. It’s a mid-rise with huge windows in every unit, a roof garden, wine bar, and an elder-healthy-foodie-hipster cuisine.

The tenants’ average age is 72, younger than I am.

We were impressed. I did not have my usual walk-in, runaway anxieties.

Did I mention that this was a virtual tour?

We took the tour in an office building next door to the shell of the place that won’t open until late this year.

So the main reason I did not have my usual old-person anxieties is that there were no flesh-and-blood old people to trigger them.

No actual walkers with tennis ball bottoms, wheelchairs, or stretcher-friendly elevators.

What kind of putz am I to feel more positive in the absence of people?

But then something else happened. I asked the marketer where the people who have signed up to move in are from.

Three-quarters of them live within 7 miles of the place, she said.

I imagined so many of these people who already knew each other or at least were living close enough to the same friends, families, neighbors, and places they were living in before.

In short, not us.

No reason to assume that people are unfriendly, but that marketer’s stat reminded me that breaking in is hard to do.

It made me think of, to paraphrase Ian Lind’s thoughtful recent blog post about neighborliness, how hard it might be to make neighbors into friends.

And by the way, Vivienne, every apartment in that new Portland place has two bathrooms.

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