‘It’s The Lifestyle They Lead, Larry’

On August 7, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

collyer-living-roomA memoir-essay of the author’s early years.   I think we all have memories of that hole-in-the wall we lived and survived in, during our first foray into the ADULT world. You know the drill– the hot plate, bathroom down the hall, maybe kitchen privs, or as a friend of mine described it, ” the suicide suite.” Well in the late 70’s I moved back to Bean Town and got a furnished room on Newbury Street. That’s right- fashionable and oh-so chic Newbury Street. But behind the august Brahmin Brownstone facade, was a gone-to-seed series of rooms that constituted a rooming house. And what a cast of characters resided there. Right across from me was a red-faced retired Irish civil servant.

In the morning I would often bump into him in the hall, and he greeted me in a hearty, hail-fellow-well-met manner: “How are ya, me boy!” And at night when I was too tired to use the head down the hall and improvised in my sink, I heard him coughing his guts out through the thin walls. I thought the old codger would blow a gasket, but there he was in the morning with his requisite stained undershirt, and faded plaid boxers. He greeted me with “Top of the morning, Lad!” Below me was a spinsterish woman who optimized the saying, ” Dry as a spinster on Saturday night.” Every time I would pass her room I would see a pair of specs peering through the crack between the door. The door would close quickly when my eyes met her clandestine gaze. On the first floor was a service- bartender for the Sheraton Hotel in the Prudential Center. His room was an all-night Vegas. He was the host of marathon poker games. Often I would pass by his room in the wee- hours, and see a gaggle of grim-faced Hispanic kitchen workers holding court around a table of chips, booze and maybe a stacked deck. I remember my own little room, a stained carpet, generally down-at-the-heels affair,  that had a fair number of mice. I set up some mousetraps, that were baited with peanut butter. I often would wake to the snap of these terminal devices as they caught their nocturnal prey. I kept a count pasted on my pockmarked wall, concerning the number of rodents caught during a given week. It got so I looked forward to that loud “snap”, so I could go up another notch. Well…I remember calling my folks who lived in the well-to-do suburbs of Long Island, from my poor excuse for living quarters. As I was speaking to my usual taciturn father, a mouse rudely traversed the room. I said, ” Dad- A mouse just ran by!” He said in his rough, gravely voice, ” Get the hell outta there!” Before I could say anything my very Jewish mother, with her distinctive Long Island nasal intonation said, ” Larry…it’s the lifestyle ‘they’ lead.” I wondered what she meant? Did she read in the New York Times that I was part of a tribe of young people that made a pilgrimage to a mecca of rodent-infested rooms, devoid of the most elemental creature comforts? And so today when I see a group of guys piling out over an over-priced one bedroom, with rings on every available appendage and hair a colorful rainbow of nonconformity, I have to stop myself from saying to my wife, ” It’s the lifestyle, Dianne.”


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