Today was my dad’s inaugural cry as a co-op parent. Apparently when preparing to move me into a student-housing cooperative for my second year of college, he did not anticipate contemplating whether or not the yellow tinge of the walls was a result of paint or mildew, calculating the hole to floorboard ratio, or worrying whether or not the vague smell of gas would ultimately put an end to my existence. Granted the room is in the basement, but I was still tempted to run upstairs and ask where the crack was hidden. After lugging my belongings into the room and asking if I was planning on keeping the bunked beds in the closet, he gave me a long hug, pleading through a cracked voice, “You don’t have to live here.” I reassured him that this would only prepare me for the rough living conditions of a liberal-arts graduate, so he shouldn’t feel too bad about it. He began to tear up.
While I was throwing some clothing into the washer, a guy came in and introduced himself as Jeff. He told me some of the housemates were planning on gathering in the Pleasure Parlor around 10 PM and that I was “welcomed to join them for an evening of fun.” I didn’t go; instead I organized my collection of army soldiers from the Salvation Army and contemplated the function of a Pleasure Parlor.
When I tell people that I live in a coop, they often respond with blank stares and meaningless nods. Rather than rambling off a made up answer, I am relieved to have finally established a thorough description of a student-housing cooperative:
Being a member of the Inter-Cooperative Council (ICC) means that I am part owner of the organization. Before I could sign a contract to live in my house, I had to put down 500 dollars in shares that will be returned to me upon leaving the ICC. The organization was created in 1932 by students looking for affordable student housing, the underlying basis of the ICC; the organization is able to keep the costs low because there is no landlord making a profit. As a member of my house, I am expected to complete four hours of work towards the house each week. While I have been assigned to Wednesday dinner cook and Thursday lunch clean, other chores include vacuuming, bathroom cleans, yard work, and maintenance of a specific room in the house. Other members of the house complete their work hours through their elected officer position. These positions include: president, board representative, work manager, treasurer, secretary, food steward, and maintenance manager. Each house is required to have house meetings at least twice a month in order to discuss house operations, policies, and improvements that can be made through out the year.
I also have the opportunity to voice my opinions on an organizational level. Every other Sunday, the board meets in order to discuss and vote on the operations of the ICC as a whole. The board consists of 18 board representatives (one from each house), the committee vice presidents (membership, education, recruitment and retention, financial, diversity, and sustainability), the president, and the general manager of the ICC. At each meeting there is an allotted amount of time for members at large to come and discuss any qualms and ideas they have for the ICC. While students started the ICC, it has greatly expanded over the years, warranting the need for a hired staff to oversee organizational operations.
While the majority of constituents in the ICC consist of University of Michigan students, the ICC is in no way affiliated with the University. In fact, the University has done its best to distance itself from the ICC for some time now, most likely due to the ICC’s “anarchist” reputation established along with its creation.
My roommate, Michelle, arrived yesterday. She too is terrified by the condition of the room and has successfully convinced me that we will develop mesothelioma due to the potential presence of asbestos in the pipe insulation along our ceiling. Having had no seniority points in the house and having grabbed the lowest card in the deck that assigned the order of room picks, the basement double was the last (only) room available to me. Michelle was abroad last semester and left the search for housing to the month before school started, and this was the only space left. Having known each other for only 15 hours, we have quickly bonded over our tendencies to exaggerate our problems.
Written on one of the stalls in the second floor bathroom:
“Gather out of star-dust,
And splinters of hail,
One handful of dream-dust, not for sale.”
General Unspecified Free Food, or more commonly referred to as GUFF. Such items are limited to those bought for the house, by the house, and to be used and/or consumed only by the members of the house. The definition has evolved over time to include a variety of items, not just food. (A) Fifty-pack box of Ramen on a kitchen shelf, GUFF. Toothbrush in a personal shower caddy, not GUFF. Always remember to label accordingly.
Walking outside on my way to class, I notice which I assume used to be a white area rug hanging over the porch railing. Obviously its function is much more optimized outside. Its light brown tinge fits well with the décor of the porch, and could serve as a nice landing pad for the squirrels and raccoons. The multitude of liquor bottles and cigarette butts strewn across the area show that cleanliness is really stressed here at the coop, so I assume it is a housemate’s hope that the rodents wipe their paws before roaming the rest of the porch.
Michelle went to the ICC office a couple days ago, and they assured her the room was up to code. They have provided us with an air filter and carpeting and have patched the holes in our ceiling in order to put our minds at ease. We also painted the walls light blue, covering up the previous questionable shade of yellow. Apparently for the past few years, males, who quite obviously had no standards for aesthetics, had occupied the room. It is now livable.
Today I walked into the Pleasure Parlor. As I was expecting to find a coveted shrine for past housemates or possibly a camouflaged hydroponic lab, the experience was anti-climatic. The room is large with wood flooring, large windows opening to the porch, and a boarded up fireplace. Sporadically hung on its white walls are an armature oil painting, a Coke sign, a dartboard sans darts, a Vermouth Bianco poster, and a Miller Genuine Draft cardboard guitar. In the middle of the room stands a pool table on wheels with a warped ping-pong table on top. Along the perimeter of the room are about six couches, their obvious old age contributing to the integrity of the coop. The room is lit by a glass green ceiling fan and two wall lamps, one of which is outlined by a drawing of a flame in black permanent marker.
Today I walked into the dining room; some girl was eating cereal with a knife, and a kid in the corner was drinking juice out of a cake tin shaped like a fish. For a moment I pretended to be surprised by this, but then I grabbed the water pitcher I had used for dinner last night off the table in order to clean it. As I put it back on its shelf, I took note of the fact that out of the 50 or so glasses we have in this house, only four are on the rack. I’m living with a bunch of hoarders.
Number sixth passive aggressive note I have found in the kitchen this semester: “Clean your dishes. We have knives, and I know where you live.”
As I have finally felt comfortable to walk through the whole house, today I discovered that we have four murals painted on our walls. One of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” a pop art image by Keith Haring along the front staircase, a Mario game display wrapped around the third floor, and an under the sea themed mural on the back staircase.
I’ve had many nicknames in my life thus far: Dani Girl, D, Nelly, and even Donkey Kong. While slightly obnoxious when used overzealously, I’ll admit that they all were reasonable and fairly mainstream. I am not so sure, however, how I feel about Dan’s new concoction. According to him, my new name is Daniellephant Kramecakes. Whether or not he means to insinuate anything specific by this, I am now re-evaluating my food choices.
I went to sit down on the old lazy boy we have in the dinning room, sitting on what I assumed was a pile of blankets. Cassie yelled at me to get up; I was sitting on Reggie’s face. No one in our house is named Reggie, so I looked at her in bewilderment. She walked over and removed the blankets that she informed me were keeping Reggie warm due a recent loss of stuffing. Reggie was a human-sized puppet Cassie found two years ago on the streets of Detroit; she had decided that it was finally time for him to meet the rest of the house. She told me he was the most consistent man in her life thus far. I did not know how to react seeing as his tongue permanently lolls out of his mouth, and he wears a pair of overalls with a questionable stain on the left leg. And I guess there’s also the fact the he’s, well, a puppet.
Tonight we had a house meeting. We spent 10 minutes debating whether or not we should buy guff laundry detergent. Our priorities are in the wrong place, especially because we’ve had two “squatters” living in our house for the past two months, eating our food and using our electricity.
Rules for an orgy, rule #4: Punch in the face = Back off.
I don’t know if it’s normal to declare one’s eternal resting place at the age of 19, but I can say with confidence that I would like to live out my days sprawled out on the red couch in our dining room. As I anticipate being accused of morbidity at the gates of my judgment day, I must explain. The couch’s woven red fabric covered foam cushions each contain an uncanny ability to suck every last drop of stress and tension out of my being, until I am officially mentally at ease with the world. Possibly it’s the perfect level of firmness that gently supports each contour of my body, or the constant savory smells wafting from the kitchen, or even the subtle details in the mural of “Nighthawks” painted on the adjacent wall that makes laying on the couch such a magical experience. Whatever it is, I refuse to question it.
Tonight we voted out the two girls living illegally in our house. As everyone had their own opinion on the matter, at any given time two or more people would simultaneously be shouting, competing for the house’s attention. The main conflict was between old members and new members. The two squatters lived in our house last year, and having both just graduated, they needed somewhere to crash while figuring out their lives. Some members from last year are close friends with the two girls and felt that they should be allowed to stay provided they complete work hours. The majority of new members, myself included, wanted them gone, plain and simple. We put it to a vote. The majority of members voted against their presence. A typical 45-minute meeting lasted two hours. Some people were crying by the end, and others went to take shots in order to relieve themselves of stress from the meeting.
Last night our house hosted a 70’s Porn Party. At 1 AM someone shouted “SHIRTS O’ CLOCK!!” Everyone took off their shirts they were wearing.
Here at my house, we feel it is important to acknowledge the day that buckle wearing English Protestants and the savage indigenous peoples of America put their differences aside and had a potluck in order to celebrate the Great Harvest, a holiday otherwise known as Thanksgiving. This “first” meal serves as a model for our own at the coop. However, in order to give thanks to the unequal distribution of food that keeps our bellies full here in the United States, it is our duty to be as glutinous as possible. The Pilgrims and Native Americans had one turkey? So we have three. A pumpkin pie was served on that autumn day? We make pumpkin cheesecake with a pecan crust. Mashed potatoes? Please, we have four different kinds. Because cooperation is the main principle of the holiday, we too put aside our differences and spend a full arbitrary Sunday around our dinning room table cooking a feast that would only make our founders proud.
People don’t look up enough. Everything beautiful in life seems to be lurking above eye level, and there is so much that we miss walking around in our own worlds, occupied by our trivial problems. Today I was lying on a couch in the Pleasure Parlor and happened to glance at the ceiling. An intricate trim lines the ceiling that I have never noticed before. It’s a trim that most likely remains from what was the original architecture of this house, built in the early 1900s.
I can no longer study in our dinning room, a space that we have deemed the “vortex”. After dinner, about half of the house stays at the table in order to “do homework.” We sit with our laptops open occasionally glancing down only when there is a lull in the lively conversation. Too many times in a row, I have sat in the dinning room, taking about five hours to complete an assignment that should only take a half hour. The excitement of schoolwork never seems to match up to the “which-Hogwarts-house-is–the-best” debates or the “reasons for anarchy at the University of Michigan” discussions.
Emily is one of those people that I do not deem very cooperative, as she never does her assigned vacuuming. She has recently claimed that she “has never had a formal education on how the machine works.” This has been an ongoing struggle throughout the year. When a member doesn’t complete their work hours or attend a house meeting, they are subject to a fine assessed by the president or work manager. Emily did not attend our last house meeting, so our president fined her 15 dollars according to our house policy. She did not take too kindly to this and threatened to sue him for abuse.
Last night at four AM, I woke up to a belligerently drunk male sitting in a chair in my room. I turned on the lamp next to my bed and asked for his name. He did not respond, rather stared at his hands with a glazed expression on his face. At this point of the semester, I’ve become undisturbed by the presence of random people in the house; each week, about two to three people whom no one can vouch for are found crashing on our couches. I entertained the idea of going back to sleep, but thought as a female in a patriarchal society, it was my duty to at least kick the man out of my room. I woke up Michelle, and sleepily told her “there is a man sitting in the corner chair”. She looked over, squinted her eyes, and repeated “Hello?” several times to no avail. After three seconds of silence, the man stood up and stumbled out of our room. Michelle got out of bed, and locked the door as I turned off the lamp. We both made exasperated noises to the air and then fell back asleep.
About two months ago, a housemate told me that in the past our house was known as the “fat and pervy house.” From my observations up to that point, I could understand pervy, but fat? Not so much. Last night we had a progressive, each room had a drink to offer, and we all made the rounds. One of the rooms had the theme of bestiality, displaying pictures of animals doing the deed, along with a five-pound jug of animal crackers, six bags of gummy worms, and three boxes of teddy grams all displayed in order to embrace our inner zoosexuality. I’m starting to understand what my housemate meant.
Emilia and I plan to create a utopian alternative society. We’ll be located in the woods, but the exact location may remain arbitrary. While the governance and rules remain purposefully unknown, we have established that there will be an extensive application process in order to become a member. And a goat, for whichever reason, it’s imperative we have a goat.
Today Saige installed a stripper pole on the third floor in order to practice for her new career at the Landing Strip.
I’ve recently moved up to the third floor. This is a considerable upgrade seeing as I now have an actual closet as opposed to a freestanding clothing rack from The Home Depot.
Feeling especially stressed out about the unknown that is my future, a couple hours ago I became manic and decided to “paint” my bedroom walls. I found the orange spray paint we used to label our garbage bins, two cans of old blue and green paint, and went to work. Within five seconds of spray-painting the 3×7 white wall, I knew my creation was about to be an eye sore but continued anyway. Once the wall was thoroughly covered in transparent orange, I thought I’d channel my inner Jackson Pollock, finishing it off with green and blue splatter paint. While anyone who views this wall may use it to justify my lack of artistic skill, I find it intriguing. I have quite literally stuck an interpretation of my psyche onto my bedroom wall. The adjacent panel of wall, however, is purely a testament to my own laziness. I only half painted it, before my boredom overtook my craving for creativity.
I have an especially bad case of coop-foot today. When I stepped into the shower, I made several black footprints on the tile floor due to the accumulated dirt on the bottom of my feet.
The rug is still there. I think I get it now. Allowing its synthetic materials to mingle with nature constructs a metaphor for the tension between a capitalistic society demanding a faster output at cheaper prices and the increasing demand for organic and recyclable materials. This is definitely a protest piece.
Last night I woke up at five AM in need of a bathroom. Having failed to meditate myself back asleep, I reluctantly got out of bed, mentally preparing myself for the journey to come. I opened my door and stepped into what looked like an abyss. The builders of the house seemed to be unaware that human beings need a thing called light in order to see and forgot to install windows in the hallways. I succumbed to using the walls as my guide across the 20 feet or so, all the while trying to telepathically communicate with Mario hoping that he could somehow “show me the way.” I feared I might wake people up, as my post-slumber walk is something a kin to a stiff-legged waddle, where I don’t so much as step on the floor as stomp. About seven feet away, I could vaguely make out the shadow along the perimeter of the door; yet the real challenge lay ahead. Saige’s stripper pole was grounded in the middle of the floor somewhere in close proximity. Zombie-footed, I bent halfway forward while waving my arms through the air, hoping my fingers would manage to reach the pole before my forehead. I already had a mark on my inner right thigh from an unsuccessful attempt at twirling around the pole, and the last thing I needed was another one on my face. I continued forward and my right palm grasped the surface of the aluminum, which I used to lazily swing myself around the pole and into the bathroom. I had made it there at last.
With every day I come home to a dinning room full of people, I become increasingly thankful for the friendships I have made and the support system I have developed through living in this coop.
While lying in bed, contemplating young adult exploitation of the hipster movement, I heard a knock on the door. Two old men faced me with an excited grin on their faces, and it dawned on me that I was not appropriately dressed. As I crossed my arms over my chest, I was relieved that their eyes were immediately averted to over my head, one of them exclaiming, “The nook still exists!” He was referring to the infrastructure of the room. The two men told me that they lived in this room during the 60s, but back then it belonged to eight men, used only for their desks and dressers. Unlike today, the members slept in one large room on the third floor that currently exists as two. They were in Ann Arbor for the ICC’s 75th anniversary and wanted to visit their old home and reminisce about fond memories. They told me of their parties on the roof and confirmed my suspicions that the third floor once existed as the maid’s quarters. Seeing as the house has two staircases, one wooden-railed in the front foyer and another walled-in at the back of the house with its own door to outside, the maids could come and go without ever being seen.
It has been confirmed; the Pleasure Parlor does not fall into the “fat and pervy category.” That is the actual name of the room, existing on the blue print of the house.
Concerning the rug, I must have been looking for meaning where none existed. I was sitting on the porch when Jeff walked over to the railing, removed the damp piece of fabric, claiming that he “forgot about this piece of shit” and that he is “finally going to throw it away.” He sloughed the rug to the curb, dropping it in a way that suggested good riddance. Its disposal now relies on the city; it should be gone by next week.
I’d like to commend everyone in the house for having a consistent lack of emotional sensitivity. The numerous intra-house displays of affection through out the year have never been a cause for tension or conflict. If anything, they provide comic relief at dinnertime discussions after a long day of classes.
Last week someone told me that I lived at “hypothetical house.” I asked what she meant. She told me that my house was the example used to describe what “hypothetically” happens when something “hypothetically” goes wrong. I had been contemplating this when I walked into the basement bathroom earlier today in order to brush my teeth. I squirted toothpaste onto my toothbrush and noticed that its bubblegum mint flavor didn’t smell so bubblegum minty, but rather like a mix of play-dough and wet worms. I decided to do some investigating. It didn’t take long, however, before I pulled back the dolphin decorated shower curtain to find that our drains had backed up into the shower. Sometime last week we ran out of toilet paper, and all 23 of us neglected to go out and buy more. Some housemates took to rationing out their own personal stash. A guest could have two sheets, but another member could only have one. Most of us had been using paper toweling which—I had the unfortunate privilege of discovering—only creates a vile mess.
Through constantly dealing with 22 different personalities in my house, struggling to meet the demands of college, and grappling to find my place I this large world, I feel as though life is starting to crash down on my shoulders. However, the most important concept I have come to realize this year is that if I understand who I am, then I can overcome most anything.
I enjoy the sense of nostalgia I feel every time I look at the names of past members written on the walls, the postcards sent over the years from members abroad, and the multitude of books left behind to collect dust on the bookcases, some dating back to the early 1900’s. I do not understand, however, why there are three photographs of different people, framed, and sitting on the shelves in the TV room, especially when no one in the house is able to give an account of who the people are, and why we must look at their faces on a daily basis.
The amount of hostility in the house has become unbearable. I walked into the dinning room this morning, only to find the glass of water l I left on the table to be fully covered in green Post-It notes, my name largely written on each and every one of them. My apologies, anonymous passive aggressive housemate, I will do my best to review proper housewife code of conduct.
As I was packing up to leave the house for the year, I crossed the front lawn in order to pick up the two hula-hoops I made this year. Taking advantage of the nice weather, I swung one of the hoops over my head, twirling it at a steady rhythm. As two guys walked by, looking as though they were headed to the nearest country club in order to buy an Arnold Palmer iced tea, one of them said “hippie”, poorly disguised by a cough. I grimaced in their direction. Little did they know, but hula hooping has become very popular in contemporary workout culture, and should not be used as a means to stereotype their out-dated knowledge of a co-oper. I lowered the hoop down to my waist, and pondered how much dust I would have to sweep before officially moving out of my room