Summer 1971, I lived with six women from Trinity College, DC. The only male housemate, I sort of slipped in and stayed. Previously, this Harvard Street residence had been the transient house of the Radical Lesbians four doors up. Once, while I was sitting in the doorway, one of the transients returned to pick up her stuff and kicked me. No accident, because she kicked three times. I took it as either a political statement or a matter of personal expression.
The Radicals sublet the house to feminist Trinity poet Tina Darragh who invited some friends to move in. For a guy who had no sisters, being around six women day in and day out afforded quite an education. The smells of baking bread filled the air. The anadama was to die for. When nobody else jumped at the opportunity, I became baby sitter for the Radicals. I was a terrible baby sitter because I routinely fell asleep on the mattress on the living room floor. We all hated to see the summer house coming to an end.
With the lease was as about to run out, Tina voiced the urgency of keeping the house as a weekend/nighttime crash pad for Trinity students in need of a safe space away from the college’s repressive, Irish Catholic atmosphere. I also needed a place to live. One of us hit on a simple solution: posing as a married couple, Tina and I would rent the house. To be extra convincing, we borrowed a baby. The baby instantly cooed as if Tina were her natural mother. The owner of the house happened to be my optician, who had a storefront on Connecticut Avenue. We did our best to fill out their rental application but had little to report as neither of us had a job, work history, income, or assets to report, and were both students. After visiting the optician wearing borrowed clothes and carrying our borrowed baby, we turned in our scantily completed application and became irrationally über-confident. That we laughably failed to qualify came as a rude awakening.
I slept in the house until the day the lease ran out. One day, while I was out running, somebody broke in and robbed all of my possessions except for my secondhand, manual Royal typewriter. I was especially pissed at losing my black and white sheepskin bedspread. Fortunately, I kept my schoolbooks and some clothing in my beat-up, red-white-and-blue, VW bus with faux stained class side-ceiling windows and a manual sliding roof. Seeing no other options, I began spending my nights in a sleeping bag in the forest. Reading by moonlight, I watched the silhouettes of leaves dance across the page. I never called myself homeless, though technically, I briefly was. Tina snuck me into the Trinity cafeteria several times. Eventually, she found someone to temporarily take me in. Meantime, without phone access, I began looking for an alternative locale for the Trinity crash pad. I still had no worries about where I might live.
At Catholic University, I found a monastery-for-rent listing. I showed up at the monastery in cuff-off jeans, which given my circumstances was formal attire. I met with Fr. Vito and told him I wanted to rent his monastery for the women of Trinity. His measured response: “You can’t fool me. You’re trying to turn this holy place into a whore house.” I suggested that, before he jump to that conclusion, he meet with some of the Trinity women. That night, I returned with Tina, Jane, and few others. Jane, the theatrical one, charmed Fr. Vito who explained that the rentable monastery was the adjacent, large, vacant, white building. Tina said, “We don’t want that one, we want the one you’re living in, but you two can stay too.” Fr. Vito and bleached-blond Br. Bob said they’d like to meet our group. We said we’d return with them.
We came back to present our proposed group: a Buddhist couple; Chacko, an Indian psychologist I knew from grad school; me; and a fourth individual. Fr. Vito resonated to Chacko, who worked at Catholic Charities. We were in! Fr. Vito said that he and Br. Bob would take the two bedrooms downstairs while we occupied the four upstairs. But then, on the way home, the Buddhist couple insisted that the chapel be converted into a Buddhist shrine. I said, “You can’t do that with Fr. Vito and Br. Bob living here.” The Buddhist couple dropped out.
We replaced them with a poet couple, Michael and Lee Lally. Michael taught poetry at Trinity; his wife Lee was a feminist poet beloved by Trinity’s student poets. The second meeting had much higher energy than the first. At some point, Fr. Vito and Michael realized that, not only were they both from Newark, New Jersey, but their families were members of vehemently opposed gangs, one Italian, the other Irish. They screamed at each other and had to be restrained from coming to blows. Second group failed.
Undeterred, effective October 1, Chacko and I rented two rooms from the grey Franciscans. In the United States, there were two other greys, one in Newark, another in Juneau. An additional twenty-two greys lived in Assisi, Italy, where they ran a home for retired seamen. Chacko and I occupied rooms upstairs. Occasionally, monks from the brown Franciscan monastery two blocks away who needed a break or were on the outs occupied one of the two other upstairs bedrooms. Chacko and I enjoyed eating quietly in the basement kitchen. Although we competed with church mice in quietness, Fr. Vito often accused us of violating unstated rules, such as, flushing the toilet too frequently and noisily. On December 1, Fr. Vito informed us we would have to vacate by the end of December because the Vatican determined that the greys lacked critical mass and ordered them to disband and join other orders. Chacko and I left before Christmas. The search for a place to live began again.
Jim Ross has published fiction, nonfiction, poetry, photography, hybrid, and interviews in nearly 200 journals on five continents. His publications include Hippocampus, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Kestrel, Lunch Ticket, Newfound, New World Writing, The Atlantic, and Typehouse. He recently wrote/acted in a one-act play and appeared in a documentary limited series, I, Sniper, broadcast domestically and internationally. He began creative pursuits eight years ago after a rewarding public health research career. He holds a graduate degree from Howard University.