Ye Olde Archives » OPINION: Peter Eichenberger

From roomies to fam-a-lee

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Life becomes simpler when dark specks are eliminated--the proverbial bliss of ignorance and all that. So it is with newspapers. I have lately forsworn the handling of those grubby sheaves--at least without gloves.

But a horseback guess brings one to the border, from there it's a matter of establishing the "facts" by poring over pages of dry reports, books, periodicals and--newspapers. Ugh, little dark specks on paper--that vast gulf twixt abstract "facts" and the real world.

Abstract: Cute headline in duh N&O. "Plan Would Restrict Roomies."

Real: "They" are preparing to make my lifestyle illegal.

Elizabeth Byrd (quoted in the story), a Raleigh homeowner enjoying the luxury of not having to work, is offended by three and four unrelated humans residing under the same roof, numbering, by U.S. census figures, some 3,100 (roofs, not people--do the math). "Single-family neighborhoods are meant for single families, whether it be a traditional family or a non-traditional family," says she. "Unrelated persons don't act like a family. They drive their own cars, their own friends and their own routines." Another person, a Peter Evans, is quoted saying, "We," (leaving one to wonder who "we" are) "look at a family being an inclusive unit that does things in common.'"

That would be us. Elvin plays rhythm guitar, Tripp plays drums, Chip (when he's there) plays lead and I, as a condition of my tenancy, have an obligation to learn how to play my Kramer "Bad-Ass II" electric bass. Family values in our home consist of staying on the beat.

See, the roof in question, ours, shelters four iconoclastic musicians as well as a non-numerated number of insects, some who fly in and out, others, permanent residents, who have by dint of teamwork managed to girdle our drafty, beloved monster, leaving it to tremble when the "roomies," bound up and down the stairs. One day, the place may slide off the foundation and collapse into a fragrant heap of old heart pine, lath and shingles. The Island of Misfit Toys. We love it.

We see one another often during the day, the morning ride to Cup-a Joe, Sad's, The Burger Hut. The Brewery, The Berkeley, Humble Pie. And when good fortune smiles and something good comes along, you know, cigs, a 12-pack, like-a-dat, it's all for one and one for all. Try that with your older bother or sister when they find fi' dolla' lyin' in the street. We display way more friendly cooperation and cohesiveness than many of your shattered, dysfunctional American families.

A surprising statistical oddity. The quarter I reside in, bounded by Hillsborough, Peace, St. Mary's and Glenwood, has the distinction of being the poorest statistical unit (according to the latest census) in the Triangle. Location, location, location. The weights of the barbell are Glenwood Towers and The Carriage House retirement centers, the centroid (a fine word meaning the needle upon which a mass unit balances perfectly) lies in the foyer (although it seems to be inching toward the kitchen).

Hey, we didn't plan on being poor--like so many other things, it happened through by accident and design, a combination of an inability to "get along," staggering debt load, and a withering contempt for our spiritless, corrupt, materialistic milieu (mine reinforced by necessary and frequent trips to the North Raleigh Landfill, a shopping mall in reverse. Go there someday and meditate upon your lives).

I'm not complaining. Poverty suits me: no car, no possessions to speak of, no bank account, no 401K, no heath insurance. Hey, no problem. Other than odd yearnings to travel, everything is going along swimmingly, thenk yew.

Abstract. The biggest like-duh is that Raleigh has serious trouble with its stock of affordable housing. According to a document from HUD, titled "Raleigh NC Consolidated Plan for 1995," there were 19,225 households that had very low income (0 to 50 percent of median family income). Of the 44,998 renter households (38 percent of population), 58 percent were classified as very low to low income. Seventy nine percent have housing problems. Sixty-five percent pay more than 30 percent for housing and 62 percent pay more than 50 percent. That was seven years ago.

And, surprise, surprise, with this latest puke in the economy, homelessness is up 50 percent, according to The Business Journal (April 30, 2002), leaving 960 individuals and 611 people in families to be counted one icy night in January 2002--not including a bright, young friend of mine who lives in a storage unit. Talk about a quality of life issue. Heck, half the people I know will be on the street if this proposal goes through. You don't like loud parties and some kid pissing in your yard? Boo-hoo. Life is soooo tough. There will be so many homeless artists, musicians and writers, they will have to convert them into plastic lawn furniture to get rid of 'em, assuming the cops can't just run them off into the woods, as they do with--sniff--those people. Dig it, I went to Combs, Wiley, Daniels, Broughton and N.C. State, had a boy, have left and returned four times and my family lives here, so good luck with that, boys. I'll be! Good ole "crazy" uncle Peter wandering Hillsborough Street in a bathrobe and talking to a Pop-Tart.

So what's this about? There are all sorts of ingredients: college kids who are docile, easily intimidated, transient, poor and not prone to voting or activism (at least in this town), so hang it on them. Then it's probably a dash of pesky brown people who tend to school up in certain quarters, you know, the ones that mow your grass, build your houses and cook your burgers.

I like the idea that it's something about the git out developer bunch who have over-saturated the market with crappy new apartment units. What a great way to fill them, yeah, sure! Limit two people to a cavernous four-bedroom house with three baths (like mine, say). Yessiree, that is sho' gon make me get a beat-up Corolla and spend hours of my life in a traffic jam going to a job I hate. "The car tax" I call it, wherein one is forced to compensate for failed urban planning policies by having to buy and maintain a vehicle and live in Benson. No thanks. Portland or Austin or Paris sounds more like it. At least they have fun there.

Like newspapers, TV sets accidentally come across my field of vision. I saw upon one a show called Trading Spaces. Two people trade living spaces and are given a grand, as well as access to designers carpenters, etcetera, and muddle through best they can, poor things. My version would go a bit farther. Elizabeth or Peter would swap with me not only housing, but income levels as well. Boy, I can hardly wait for the episode that has Elizabeth bumping into Chip Robinson emerging from the shower growling. Tune in and watch the fun.

There's only one way out of this and I am not looking forward to it. We're going to drop a dime to Pullen Memorial Baptist and make an appointment. Now don't get me wrong 'cause I don't swing that way, REALLY! It's just--um--well--OK, I'll just say it.

Elvin and I are getting married. Nothing extravagant, just a quiet little ceremony with a few close friends.

The bad part is that Elvin has the minivan, and in a "traditional" family, Daddy drives. So you know what that means. I'm the one is who is going to have to wear the dresses and be Mommy and I hate my legs.

We're selling all the gear and Elvin's getting a job in the Park. I'll get a bitchin' med habit going, Zanax, Prozac--the whole bit. We'll watch a lot of daytime TV and start "bulking up" at the Golden Corral. Go with the herd, so to speak, all 60 percent of normal "husky" Americans.

And then next August, after we adopt the boys, Elvin'll pack up the Astro. I'll pry Chip away from his Internet porn, Tripp from his first-person shooter games and boom--it's off to Disney World to see if he can get Elvin for God's sake to stop yelling how much he hates me in front of the kids, IF ONLY JUST FOR A WEEK! EndBlock

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