As I may have mentioned a time or two, we live surrounded by rental houses filled with undergraduates. At the beginning of May they leave after graduating, or merely filling their parents’ SUVs with lava lamps, microwaves, bean bag chairs and dirty laundry. As they move out, the street looks more and more like the aftermath of some curious natural disaster that sucks trash from houses; trash cans overflow with broken sponge mops and broken chair rungs, and the curb is obscured by hideous plaid sofas, rain-sodden mattresses, broken bookshelves and brake-less bikes. At the end of August, right about now, a new batch appears with U-Hauls, frazzled mothers re-cleaning the kitchens and sweaty fathers carrying dressers and futons.
In the middle there are the summer renters, with us like the fireflies for a brief time when the town is quieter, the classes are fewer, and we are outside more. We study them from the comfort of our own covered porch, giving them working titles until we actually meet them. This summer, the “Blue House Guys” turned out to be affable stoners, sitting on their own porch and listening to music, offering complimentary blunts to pretty girls passing on their way to the downtown bars in microscopic skirts and tank tops. The “Green House People” were delightful hangovers from the previous school year, and although we lost Bob with his James Earl Jones voice (often heard floating across the street as he paced outside and talked on his cell), we kept long-limbed Ellen the hiker, and gained a fey, skinny boy named Cody who danced un self-consciously to Lady Gaga in his driveway, and spent hours in nothing but cutoffs and desert boots trying to ride a skateboard. He always waved and said hello, and reminded me in a bittersweet way of the fleet of “sassy gay friends” of my younger days. We said goodbye to him last week, gave him a roll of packing tape, and watched him drive away with his parents and his little brother.
In the Red House there lived a band, a motley assortment of tribal drummers, vocalists, guitarists and a cello. They practiced for hours at a time, jamming into the night with a frequently changing style that ranged from New-Agey and vaguely Indian to real rock with electric guitar solos. They were charming when we met them, polite, interesting, telling us that only two of the housemates were actually in the band. The others, we agreed privately, had to have been either deaf or extremely supportive. They left two weeks ago after an all-night farewell party to which we were invited but which we could not attend.
The Gray House was filled with abrasive, foul-mouthed young women who, I believe, played one of the varsity sports. Despite warnings about the hard-partying evils of various college athletic teams, we have loved living in close proximity to members of the football team, the womens’ soccer team and about half of the hockey team. After all those years of being pleasantly surprised, one house full of “we told you so” was bearable, if not ideal. We were not sorry to see them leave.
After barely a week to miss the outgoing group, we are assessing what we have for this school year. So far, the affable stoners have been replaced by a mixed gender household that plays Jimmy Buffet and 60s R & B. Last night, their neighbors in the Green House carried their chairs off their porch and walked over to mingle to “Changes In Latitude” and “It’s A Man’s World.” It is difficult to imagine that anyone who likes Jimmy Buffet at the age of 20 is likely to urinate off the porch or break glass in the street at half time. The Red House has been filled with nubile creatures who we call The Barbies. They are beautiful, their clothes are beautiful, and they are polite to us, but after hours there is a tendency towards yelling fights with each other and/or boyfriends. “Ken screwed up,” I observed to my husband the other night during a particularly hysterical rant. They seem to live dramatically, those Barbies, but I will view them as interesting human theater rather than a potential noise issue. Next door is a house full of young men, two of whom appeared on our porch yesterday to give us their names and phone numbers in case there was ever a problem. One thing we have learned in ten years here is that no one who voluntarily comes over to meet us is ever a problem. I’m going to like them, I think.
It will never be Mayberry on this street, nor will it be suburbia. Our neighbors will come and go, and we will watch them, get to know some of them, and become close to some of them in rare, but splendid instances. There will be those who regard us with gimlet eyes and whisper to one another about how, if we don’t like noise and partying we should go live someplace else, but they are the minority. I like to think that our interest, our mellow acceptance and our very un-manicured lawn and house give us the status of Benevolent Elders. We deserve some respect and we need to be able to sleep at night, but we know that on football Saturdays the street will be loud, footballs will be passed, and beer pong will be as common as autumn leaves. It’s just how it is, and while we ask for moderation and civility most of the time, it would be ridiculous for us to try to shoehorn this ebullient culture into the norms of suburbia. There are nights when I would love to hear nothing but crickets, but there have been days when the sweet, uncontrived generosity shown by some 22-year-old has reaffirmed my belief in humanity.
Over and over they change, these people just figuring out who they are and where they belong. I hope to be here to watch them for decades more, and to feel the juice that comes from being surrounded by the energy and potential. I still feel a little twinge when I look across the street and think that my dancing boy is gone along with the band and the stoners, but it turns out that one of the new boys next door is a psychology major who has a very interesting research project, and wants to know how to season his cast iron skillet………..