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The House, at the end

Previously: The House, at the beginning.

Living so close to the Seattle Center, traffic was a recurring hassle on Sonics game nights, along with rowdies and drunks after the games. Also, Brian wanted a yard where he could do some gardening, so we decided to move again, and this time The House would actually be a house.


The House #3

We found a place we liked on Queen Anne Hill, a quiet and somewhat upscale part of the city. It had six bedrooms instead of three, but we'd had no trouble finding flatmates, and none of them had ever been late paying their rent, so why not think big? 

There was also an unfinished basement, which intrigued Brian. He'd worked in construction, and thought that with a few months of weekend hammering, he could build two more bedrooms downstairs. Eight bedrooms! We did the math and the numbers looked good, but we'd need a flurry of new flatmates in a hurry, so we ran off more copies of our brilliant but bonkers questionnaire.

There was one potential complication, though. We’d rented the house through a real estate agent, and didn’t know who owned it until a few days after signing the lease. In Seattle, a city of half a million souls, this still seems a phenomenally unlikely coincidence, but the house was owned by the father of my girlfriend, April. Imagine that — in the 1980s, a working man could feasibly own two homes, and rent the second one out for extra income.

To me, though, it smelled like a disaster. I did not like April's father, and he frickin' hated me. Brian and I considered nixing the deal, but we'd already paid the first month/last month/damage deposit, so we were kinda stuck. When we met the landlord, I flop-sweated. As my girlfriend’s father he was a big, hairy, mean, muscular monster, but as our landlord he was ... reasonably reasonable — always slow to make repairs, but he never slugged me, and never mentioned that I was banging his daughter.

April already knew her way around the house, even had a key, and the night before Brian and I moved in, she and I had an unfurnished housewarming party in the bathtub. Then we ate pizza by candlelight, and ran around the empty house naked. To this day, that night remains a very happy memory. Also, she showed me how to light the pilot for the furnace.

The next morning, Brian and I moved in. Then we started meeting with prospective flatmates, and soon there were five of us in the house. May I introduce you to the new guys?

Alberto worked at a pizzeria, or maybe he was a new hire in the mob? His accent was almost indecipherably thick, but he made excellent Italian meals in the kitchen, and there was always enough to feed you too, if you chipped in for the meat and pasta, or volunteered to wash the dishes afterwards.

Bennett was a college student, usually studying in his room. He was a black guy with an oversized afro, and after a few weeks, when we were pretty sure he’d know it was just a joke, we'd sometimes flatten ourselves against the wall when he walked past. “Afro clearance!” 

Vince was a much older man, almost as old as I am now. He was retired, living on Social Security, and he had gray hair, a filthy sense of humor, and a big collection of porn magazines. Since I no longer had my stash of Playboys, I quickly befriended Vince.

With one room still empty, our ad the next week said, “Five men searching for a sixth,” but two women showed up on our porch — Margaret, who wanted to move in, and Yvonne, her sister, who wanted to make sure we weren’t a bunch of perverts.

Margaret was shy and didn’t say much at first, but her sister was an atomic-powered whirlwind, and she actually said that line about perverts. I took an immediate dislike to Yvonne, but it was Margaret who wanted the room, and she seemed OK. She was already filling out the questionnaire, and there was nothing worrisome in her answers. Brian and I shrugged, the penis rule was waived, and Margaret became our sixth flatmate. 

Yvonne and I had a brief, uncomfortable conversation, though, with me asking two questions: Why are you in charge of your sister?, and If you’re worried that a house full of men means a house full of perverts, why are you moving your sister into a house full of men? 

To the first question, Yvonne's answer was, “I’m the big sister, and I look out for Maggie,” which makes sense. To the second question, she said, “If you’re decent men, you’ll protect her,” which didn't.

“I hope we don’t have any perverts here, but we’re not a protective agency," I said. "Your sister is gonna have to take care of herself.” I’ll add now, none of the men who lived there ever made a pass at Margaret or laid a hand on her.

That's what I thought, anyway, but long after The House had ended, Margaret confided to me that Bennett had asked her out, and she’d declined. She didn’t think it was smart to date a flatmate. So to Yvonne I’d say again, Your sister could take care of herself.

And years later, long after April and I were over, Maggie and I dated, and Yvonne disapproved. Yvonne always disapproved, of everything. 

Margaret was our newest and only female resident, and her shy, quiet demeanor during that first meeting quickly faded. She became the queen of The House, and there were arguments between her and each of the rest of us. We wondered whether we’d made a mistake, but soon everyone’s personalities (mostly) meshed. What we'd thought was ‘arguing’ was just Margaret being Margaret. She spoke in arguments, same as Alberto spoke with an Italian accent, and we (mostly) got used to it.

This was, I think, my favorite version of The House. Everyone (mostly) got along, and sometimes two or three flatmates went to a movie or a ball game together.

After work or school, some of us might hang out in the living room, watching TV or playing LPs, which was usually nice.

Brian would lend Alberto his car for a doctor’s appointment. 

Margaret’s crankiness became mildly laughable, but she was in on the joke. 

Bennett introduced me to black-eyed peas, which I still like. 

Vince crawled inside the oven once when it wouldn’t heat up, and fixed it somehow. 

I wasn’t much of a beer-drinker, but everyone else was, so sometimes I volunteered a couple of six-packs for the fridge. 

Everyone shared a meal together only once, when Margaret and Alberto prepared quite a nice Thanksgiving dinner. Ham, not turkey. Potatoes and green beans and pie. We all ate at three card tables in the big, otherwise-empty dining room. 

We'd become friends, or almost friends, and usually we all did our chores, which rotated weekly per the chart posted on the fridge.

As he’d planned, Brian built new bedrooms in the basement, and everyone’s rent went down as two more strangers moved in. The new guys’ names, though, I don’t remember.

Alberto and Bennett were gone within a year, and more questionnaires brought more flatmates. Vince left, and Bill the Professor found our new location and moved in, but a few months later he was gone again.

None of the many people who lived with us was an axe murderer, or ever more than a mild annoyance, but the constantly churning cast of characters began losing its charm. Our first ten flatmates had become friends or near-friends, but people were always moving out and moving in. After a while it felt like I was living with Brian and Maggie and ... a crowd.

After two years atop Queen Anne Hill, we signed the lease over to one of the other flatmates — Connors was his name, I think. April's dad was glad to see me go, and April had already dumped me. He was glad about that, too. Everyone else stayed with Connors, but Brian and Maggie and I packed, and our fraction of The House made its last move, to the suburbs.


The House #4

My parents had raised six children, plus a grandkid they’d been asked to care for, but by then they were alone in an otherwise empty and oversized house. It had been thoroughly lived in and needed a billion repairs, and who better for the job than my buddy Brian? Mr Construction! Mr Build-Two-New-Bedrooms-in-the-Basement! 

With a handshake deal, my parents moved out, and Brian and Margaret and I moved in. I took the same bedroom I'd lived in when I was five. On the weekends, Brian repaired and remodeled the place, with an occasional helping hand from me.

It was still The House, even in a different house. A few more flatmates moved in, and one of them smoked too much pot. One of them played music too loud, but he'd turn it down if you asked, every night. Except for Margaret, all of them were men in their twenties, and sometimes I got their names wrong. None of them were pervs, to my knowledge, but the hunkiest two of them were boinking each other.

Eventually I said goodbye, and got an apartment of my own again. Margaret left The House, and ended up in Eastern Washington, where last I heard, she still lives. Brian moved out when he married and started his family, but we're still in touch, and play chess via email.

My parents’ home was thoroughly upgraded, with a new kitchen, new carpeting, a new roof, fresh paint everywhere, etc. Brian did a craftsman’s quality work, and my parents paid him for it. Well, my mother paid. My father was dead by then.

The House had grown from a studio to three bedrooms, morphed into a house on a hill, and then to the suburbs. Through all those incarnations and about three dozen flatmates, The House had been our home. It was a place for people who had no other place, where some of us made ourselves into sort of a family. And then, like families do, we went our separate ways.

Now I live alone. Nobody gets on my nerves. It’s nice. It’s quiet. Sometimes, it’s too quiet.

 10/25/2021

itsdougholland.com 

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2 comments:

  1. Eduardo Diaz ArzateOctober 26, 2021 at 7:24 AM

    I thought you were dead after you disappeared what, 25 years ago. Searching for your name a few weeks I thought it would be either nothing or an obituary but instead you are still writing and I have been loving it. especially when you dig deep and bring out sweet stories like this It makes me feel like I almost know your brother the Christian and all the stories about Margaret and of course your wife. It is beautiful, but I want to remind you that you owe me $9 from my 1990s unfulfilled subscription to Pathetoc Life.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Eduardo! Your name is distinctive enough that I (think I) remember it from the mailing list. You were somewhere in the northeast, yes? How's life been for all these years?

    As for your nine bucks, bite me. Quoting from the small print at the back of the zine, 1995:

    "Subscriptions: $10 for three issues, $15 for five, $20 for seven, but if I shut down the zine it means I'm bankrupt, so no refunds.

    ReplyDelete

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