Monday, April 25, 2005

The Old Couple

It was about 1972, I'm not sure of the date. I was living in a low-ceilinged garage apartment—an apartment that used to be the garage!—with two friends and we were splitting an $80 a month rent. We called it "The Cellar" because it had no windows and was dark except for light bulbs or leaving the door open. There was no screen door to keep the Austin insects out, so we didn't do that much. Two of us were hippies and the third a student hippie. I've mentioned this "cellar" before in a previous post, Moen's Silent Screw.

George, Jim, and I were poor and each had a hard time digging up the $27 each per month. Of course we were spendthrifts, too, so sometimes even when we had the money at one point, at least one of us would have trouble still having it when the rent came due! We had a game of musical chairs going about who would cover for whom each month. Somehow it worked out.

I recall there was a pair of elderly homeowners still hanging on to their old proprietary views in the middle of a bunch of rental properties. Despite their distaste and stubbornness, I guess what used to be a neighborhood was now a strange and foreign place, full of young people, Negroes, Arabs, and Orientals. Everything that was foreign. Dopers and fornicators. Gays and Lesbians were beginning to be heard of.

We hadn't met The Old Couple under ordinary circumstances and so we assumed that we never would; there were lots of neighbors all around that we expected to never meet. But the time finally came when I did meet The Old Couple. I came out of our one-room apartment one afternoon to make a food run and found a neat handwritten message on my windshield telling us that they would appreciate it if we'd stop parking in front of the house in which they'd lived for the past few decades. Before I ran my errand or moved my car, I went over to talk to them.

I'd never even seen them, so naturally I'd never spoken to them before. I was more polite to them than I felt like being, but I stuck to my pose. I had tea or lemonade or something else genteel and old-fashioned that made me feel out of place and out of time. They were a very handsome couple. It seemed odd that I'd notice such a thing in older people back then—if I noticed it, it must have been remarkable! They were very polite, too, and seemed from an older world. It didn't take long to see that The Old Couple felt that they had a definite and complete ownership of the street in front of their house. They always had, they always would. I didn't agree with them, but more than that I wondered how they were going to get the cooperation of all the rest of the renters and riff-raff that now came and went on that street? I wasn't a hardhead about such things—I felt angry to a small degree, but I felt a number of the other strangers they accosted about this were either going to ignore them or tell them off.

I didn't want any trouble or even any aggravation about them owning the curb adjacent to their house. Indeed, I was probably not capable of being adequately impolite to break through the brick wall of their consciousness! So I just back-pedaled out of there as quickly as I could. I moved my car to MY side of the street! Their "rules" were authoritarian and inflexible, but they were so polite! I realized as I was removing my car that it had even been difficult to leave their living room, to get away from their graciousness! Someone else could be the heavy, argue with them, force the old man to call the cops. I don't know if he had any other cards up his sleeves than that, if he had a nephew who was a city attorney or something. If they were still "doing well" in the world, I don't think they'd have still been living on that run-down street in the midst of those student rental properties. I might be wrong; I have since met a variety of people who, regardless of their economic situation, if their home was already paid for, would not consider leaving it.

I used to have a clear remembrance of the old couple and had it for a long time, but when I ran across these notes recently, I realized yet another long time had passed and I'd mostly forgotten them. I remember these small bits of detail, a little of how the old man looked, hardly anything about his wife. They were too civilized to be afraid—that's one thing I remember—of me, of anyone. They wanted it to still be a Decent Neighborhood in the capitalized sense of the word, and I knew it couldn't be, not for much longer. To me the decay of the neighborhood didn't seem so terrible, just progress, but whenever the realization may have hit The Old Couple, I know it must have been horrific.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here! (At least put on your socks and pants.)