It was a Friday night, and I had just moved out of UAlbany’s concrete dorm rooms to a big old house on Myrtle Avenue, not far from the College of Saint Rose in Albany’s “student ghetto.” My roommates left to go to a party, while I stayed home to rest for my Saturday morning work shift. I triple checked all the locks on the doors before retiring, but still I heard noises, and I was nearly sure there was someone in the house. There wasn’t.
That didn’t stop me from remembering horror stories I’d heard from my peers and read in the Albany Student Press crime blotter: girls waking up to masturbating intruders, doors kicked in and laptops stolen, cars broken into, and so on. I did hear real frightening sounds that night: our neighbors erupting in such an intense-sounding fight, I nearly called the police. I later found out one of the guys there sold drugs—and they were, by far, our least threatening neighbors. Before we moved out, we were robbed once and threatened often, our cars were egged and I began several mornings to the sounds of domestic violence next door.
After finally dozing off, I awoke to the sounds of people downstairs—but soon heard my roommate’s drunken voices, accompanied by the thuds of heavy objects being moved. In the morning, I came downstairs to find a glorious sight: towers of paint cans from the attic supporting a spare door from the basement. The structure resembled a table, which held pyramids of red solo cups and ping pong balls. This served as our beer-pong table for the next two years.
Our house, like most houses in the area, was split into two apartments, one on each floor, with three bedrooms, a living room, dining room, bathroom and kitchen in each. Albany zoning law states no more than three unrelated people can live together in an apartment; this set-up allowed my five girlfriends and I to live together under one roof, and the entire house was, more or less, communal. Our basement housed piles of garbage, and our attic over a decade’s worth of broken and unwanted things, including an air-hockey table, dishes, boxes, paint, tools, and a body-size punching bag.
The girls who lived in our house before us left what was probably the majority of their belongings. This meant we had to sort through tons of garbage but this also meant we didn’t have to buy furniture, dishes, or most household items. We were even supplied with several months’ worth of oatmeal. We gladly accepted the gift.
Our house was ghetto, but in that came freedom. We painted and put holes in the walls without fear. We often found garbage but sometimes found treasures. We had space for parties and activities, we painted our nails without worry of dripping on the floor, and we collected crap, knowing one day we could leave it all behind. Our home was temporary, dirty and falling apart, and that was the beauty of it.
When I moved out of the student ghetto and into the land of recent college graduates—near Lark Street in Center Square—I took the opportunity to minimize, and left behind a mixture of stuff, both useful and trash. My new apartment is classy, tiny and far away from frat parties. There are few to no Solo cups or paper plates on the floor, not even on Sunday mornings. There is no room for a beer pong table—but there’s a huge selection of bars, and I can get into them now. I had to call the police once—over a recycling issue. My first weekend, I danced to oldies at Elda’s Vinylmania and woke up Saturday to find Art on Lark going on just down the street. I felt my quality of life had improved hugely.
Last week I went back to my student ghetto house. My friends lived in my old apartment over the summer, and moved out in time for the new students—a group of boys. I left a few things there over summer—including some dishes—and I went back to see if I could still collect them.
The boys said they threw them out, and my new roommate assisted me in secretly poking through the pile of junk on their porch to see if we could spot them. In the pile were all the things I’d left behind—a pink Ottoman I bought from Target for my freshman-year dorm, clothes I never wanted to wear again, an ironing board I never used. We found only one bowl on the porch, and I have a feeling the rest of the set is still in the kitchen, serving feasts of Ramen and left over slices of Madison’s pizza to the new owners.