Let's consider the empty house on the street where I live.
The house is empty because the owner, Sammy, a guy about 30, suddenly moved out after living in the place for 3 years. I remember the day he moved in. He came with his cars and bikes after his suburban parents bought the house for him. During his first weeks here some of the neighbors went out of their way to say hello but Sammy was aloof. He obviously didn't want to be bothered to get to know the people on the block.
What Sammy did for a living was a mystery, but his pattern was to leave the house everyday around noon and return in the early evening.
Sammy could have been living on a mountain top because he never made eye contact with neighbors. You could pass Sammy in the street and he'd have one of those Village of the Damned 'straight on' stares like he was sleepwalking.
Sammy's house was a large space with interesting room patterns. I know because I used to be friends with the couple, Walter and Betty, who lived there before their move to Washington State. Walter, Betty and I didn't become friends until their last two years on the street. Who knows why it took us so long to strike up a friendship. One day they invited me to dinner so I got to sample Walter's gourmet cooking. On warm summer days, Walter would invite me over for a swim in his pool. The pool was a fairly deep above ground monstrosity with a sturdy wooden deck, set among some of the largest trees I've seen in the neighborhood. After a swim, we'd catch an iced tea during which Walter would talk about his favorite poet, Gary Snyder.
I wasn't happy when Walter and Betty announced that they were moving west. I was getting used to going over there for dinner and swimming in their pool, and then inviting them over to my place for patio parties. Friendships like this don't come easily. You can say hello to neighbors, even chat with them on the street for years and still never be invited over to their place.
When Walter and Betty moved out the house wasn't empty for long. One day I spotted a suburban looking couple talking with the realtor. The couple had driven up in a Lexis, which spelled m-o-n-e-y. A week or two after that a big moving truck appeared, and Sammy appeared with his bushy black hair and an army of friends. The friends, all men, were scruffy in a hip way although they all had the same type of manufactured beard.
They moved in quickly and within days held a massive outdoor party around Walter's old pool. Sammy's friends built a large bonfire and started a barbecue. The party lasted until the wee hours. Then at 4 or 5 am I was awakened by a suburban girl, one of Sammy's party guests, crying under my bedroom window. She was so drunk she found it hard to put together sentences however I tried to make out what she was saying. In the end, I couldn't decipher her drunken valley girl 'up talk' although it seemed that some boy had dumped her.
I was curious about Sammy for a short time but after a while I stopped caring. There was no reason to say hello, especially if his response was going to be something like a smug nod.
Sammy's outdoor parties were becoming more and more frequent. Party guests, driving in from the western Main Line, were double parking on our tiny street. Sammy acquired strings of Japanese party lights and strung them along the tree branches so that from my house his yard looked like a massive house boat in New Orleans. The parties got progressively louder and wilder yet it was fascinating to see how every party began as low key events but as the night wore on, and as more alcohol was consumed, the voices got louder and louder. Eventually the voices became so pitched it sounded like twenty men screaming at one another.
If the screaming prevented me from falling asleep, I assumed that many of my neighbors were experiencing the same thing. I'd turn on the AC or put fans in my bedroom window to muffle the noise but like the racket from a plague of locusts, the voices would always resurface.
And among these voices there would always be the sound of a woman crying. .
"That makes 4 crying women in 30 days," I'd tell friends. 'What do they do to women over there?"
Sammy acquired a succession of roommates to help pay the mortgage. Generally the roommates were in their twenties and never stayed long. At first the roommates were part of Sammy's social circuit but then I noticed a change. They seemed to be living independently, especially the lost looking Irish guy who seemed to be terrified of strangers and whose large dog seemed to be his only friend. He would sit glum faced on Sammy's stoop staring into space. For a time I thought he was hearing impaired.
Some of Sammy's roommates moved out in the middle of the night although they were very quickly replaced with new roommates. At one of the parties, the invited guests double and triple parked on the sidewalk up and down the street, upsetting the neighbors. Somebody called the police, and ten of Sammy's party guests got parking tickets.
"These people have no idea how the city works," I told a friend.
Sammy acquired so many roommates I lost count of them. Prohibitive housing and rental costs were really impacting people in their twenties, and Sammy's house was proof of this. Nobody could afford to live on their own. I called Walter and Betty and told them that their former home had become a gigantic hipster commune complete with dogs, motorcycles, bonfires, and beautiful white women in long dreadlocks. "It's a sight to behold although nobody on the street has made friends with them because they don't seem to want to get to know anybody."
I told Walter and Betty that Sammy had decided to get rid of the pool and chop down the oldest and grandest tree on the property. Walter and Betty were meticulous home owners, but very soon Sammy began to let things slip. After all, it really wasn't his house. His parents found the house for him. They were the ones who appreciated the house but they probably had high hopes that Sammy would come to appreciate it someday.
It wasn't long before the house began to look shabby, although all the women who visited or lived there seemed to be the same type: they were tall and elegant looking with long beautiful hair. They also dressed like fashion models, mostly in long flowing dresses. Even if beautiful women are not your thing, no one could deny the astounding beauty of these creatures. They seemed to go in and out of Sammy's house at all hours.
The men, by contrast, were doughy looking with thick Clark Kent glasses and hairy necks. "This is proof," a comedian friend of mine commented, "that pretty women like money and power."
For a period of a year, especially in winter when there were no leaves on the trees, anyone walking on the sidewalk could look right into Sammy's front window and see somebody watching Homer Simpson.
The parties continued, the beer kept flowing, and the male chorus of voices kept getting louder and louder. Sometimes I could make out what was being said. There were stories about work but more often than not there was no smooth narrative at all, just discombobulated half sentences with long pauses as well as the overuse of the word 'like' (let's not forget beer burps), and finally unexplained yells as if someone had inadvertently sat on a possum.
"Like...I mean, but like....Yeah, you know. What the fuck!"
(Repeat 50 times and you have the party conservation).
A few neighbors, eager to build bridges, continued to attempt to make contact with Sammy, but to no avail.
Two weeks ago in a bizarre replay of 3 years ago, the suburban parents returned in the same Lexis. Standing in front of the house they whispered to one another before knocking on Sammy's door. The parents had to knock a long time before one of the roommates answered although he didn't open the door but talked to them through an open slat.
Some sort of negotiation seemed to be in progress, but what?
The very next day at least two of the roommates moved out and the day after that it was Sammy's turn. Sammy left on his bike, never to be seen again.