This probably won’t really mean much to anyone but me, but I wanted to get it out there.
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I never felt particularly attached to the house I lived in the first year of my Idaho college adventure. It was a cute little white house generally known as the Igloo, about seventy years old, with an erratic washing machine, a jacuzzi in the upstairs bathroom, and a clan of mice in the basement. I lived upstairs, in a room tucked under the roof, and had to duck my head around a corner every time I ran up the stairs.
Most of that year I spent in my room. My roommates, all of them rather older than me, were busy dating the girls who would become their wives, and I hadn’t figured out how to interact with my own class yet. So I did homework and devised mousetraps and was not particularly sad when I moved out at the end of the year. That house still has people I know in it. I hear they knocked out some walls and renovated some things, and maybe even got rid of the mice. It’s no skin off my nose.
I did, however, get attached to the house I lived in for the next three years. I was invited to join the group moving into it more as a coincidence than anything else; Paden, whom I didn’t know particularly well, was looking at pictures of houses in the Bucer’s smoke room, on behalf of his dad, and I happened to be there. Somehow or other I was rendering opinions, and then somehow or other I was being asked if I was interested in moving in to be the sixth tenant, and how would I feel about sharing a room? The last question was one of those occasions when my willingness to do anything to be included really came back to bite me.
Unlike the Igloo, which was cute and fairly well maintained (aside from the mice), our new house was a bit of a dump. We guessed that it was about sixty years old, on average. Parts of it might have been older, but the inside had obviously been rearranged by amateur enthusiasts at least once or twice, with walls that didn’t quite connect to the ceiling at the top, and a light-switch which did nothing. There was also lightbulb for which no switch could be found, although the wire could be seen disappearing into the wall; in the relaxed way bachelors have, we just kept a rag by the light and screwed and unscrewed the bulb as necessary.
For as long as anyone in the neighborhood could remember, the house had been suffering from feckless renters, and it showed. The paint on the outside, which may have been blue at some point in the 70’s, was now grey, and peeling off like a half-opened Christmas present. The garage maintained a menagerie of ants. The walls in the living room (which was also the dining room, and opened uninterrupted into the kitchen at the far end) were painted a sort of bilious green in some places and a vivid beta carotene orange in others, clashing magnificently at the seams. The kitchen was off white, with fake walnut cupboards, and the whole interior was incredibly dark because there was exactly one south-facing window.
My room was a sort of addition, tacked onto what had probably been the back door at some point in the past. You went through the door by the washing machine, went down three steps and again avoided banging your head on the lower ceiling, finding yourself on a rich carpet of green artificial turf and surrounded by four walls of rich, knotty pine panelling. There were two windows on the northeast corner, and a half-hearted attempt at a closet, and not much more. The heat came in through a duct underneath the door, allowing every footstep in the rest of the house to resound and be amplified in the ductwork and then directed straight at the head of my bed.
The three years we spent in that house were an unending cycle of improvements and maintenance. We had to renovate the bathroom, desperately. The walls of the shower had been built with some sort of floral panelling, which would have been nice if the caulking hadn’t failed in about 1990 and been allowing water into the walls ever since. When we ripped them out we found enough penicillin to cure Africa and something like six inches of standing water under the window. Redoing a bathroom was a project beyond the powers of all but one of us, but when we had a contractor look at it he informed us that he couldn’t legally work on a bathroom that frightfully below the building code. So we did it ourselves, with mixed results.
Around the time we finished the bathroom, my ceiling collapsed. It began leaking first, in the early spring of my fourth year. Then the whole ceiling became soggy, and then began to sag precipitously down towards my record collection. I moved into the living room for a month or two, while the ceiling sagged and eventually fell and we had to replace the roof. It turned out that for decades tenants had been covering holes in the roof with the wrong sorts of shingles, so that there were about six inches of roof over my room and still none capable of keeping the water out.
At various other times, the gutters fell off and were not replaced, the fridge habitually flooded the kitchen floor, the washing machine exploded in a foamy mess, someone left a ten-dollar steak in the bottom of the fridge for two months, and immense ants overran my bed. A Dodge Ram left in neutral rolled down the driveway and took out the garage door with a mighty noise. I could go on. The house was a wreck. It still sort of is, despite the work we put into it.
I don’t usually think about the work we had to put into the house of Corleone, though. I think of the day we went shopping for posters and decided on a whim to put up a Godfather poster, settling our fate as the house of Corleone for three years. That was the difference between that house and the Igloo. We made ourselves an identity, not as individuals but as Corleones. We moved as a group, going to parties and classes and church in a swarm of Corleones. When we organized parties, we hosted them as the House of Corleone – and we hosted as many parties as we could, most of them involving the best food and company we could muster. And when a real Italian suggested that we had no right to take an Italian name, we got well and truly into character and answered as the House of Corleone, amateur Italians and all-around Christian Epicureans.
There were, over the three years, thirteen Corleones, some of whom got along with each other better than others. Simon Esmond, Paden Blythe, Michael Fields, Seth Bloomsburg, Fraser Martens, Chris Krueger, Lukas Dahlin, Charles Krueger, James Zekveld, Craig Linn, Stephen Sproul, Jeremy Foster, Nathan Zekveld, all Corleones at one time or another, with Paden and the only ones to last for the whole three years that the House of Corleone ruled Moscow. I know this because as we moved in, we wrote our names along the top of the pantry door. Then we left a space under our names (for our hypothetical future girlfriends), drew a line across the door, and had every guest we invited over write his or her name on the door. At the end of three years, we had over one hundred and sixty names written on the door. We also had four names in the space below ours, and one more crossed out.
I left the House of Corleone for the last time last week, and before I walked I stood for a while looking at all those names of people we had made and shared food with. Some of them, like Peter Leithart, are downright famous. Others probably will be someday. A happy number of the girls have different last names now. A couple of the signatures I can’t even read. But when I looked at that door, I felt surrounded by the ghosts of all the wonderful and horrible times we had in that house. I saw Simon slashing Seth’s hand open by accident. I saw Paden and Jasmine huddled over salad and a bottle of wine every night, and the table for two Paden built in front of the fire. I remember me passing out in front of the bathroom door during the great Swine Flu Panic of 2010 and waking up on the kitchen floor with Craig stepping over my corpse. I felt the spirits of a hundred parties, and also a hundred or two hundred nights we spent miserably alone pining together for the girls we couldn’t get to like us, slaving over homework or falling asleep halfway through a dense bit of Augustine. We bled and laughed and ate and drank and loved and cried together in that falling-apart pile of a house for three of the most intense, difficult years that our lives had contained. As a house, a building, it wasn’t much. But as a House, a building of people I fought with and lived with and learned from — well. The House of Corleone was a fine, fine place.