When you are in college, you ask people where the “student ghetto” is and then you live there.
Today, I am more uncomfortable with the colloquialism “student ghetto” than I was then. It implies some kind of appropriation, and removes the choice of the students living there who may very well be able to afford someplace “nicer” and equates it to people economically and financially disenfranchised and therefore placed away from “regular” society. But in colleges in urban areas, these “student ghettos” pop up — young people with low incomes who want to party coupled with landlords who have no incentive to maintain their properties. The houses are rented by students. Minority families move out, if they can or they put up with the noise and trash.
I lived in one in Boston called Allston. Near my house, there was graffiti that said, “Keep Allston Shitty.” Like it could be helped.
One time the family that lived next door and never called the cops even though we would throw obnoxiously raucous parties invited my boyfriend inside and tried to sell him a bird.
That’s the only time any of us saw those people.
We lived in a duplex for very little money. We had one red couch and nothing on the walls sans a poster for the psychosexual horror film, “Donkey Punch.” The day I moved in, I walked to one of two nearby furniture stores to begin furnishing my room and on the walk back, however, my whistling of Zippe-dee-do-dah was interrupted when I kicked a diaphragm into a grimy gutter. Extreme convenience juxtaposed with well, dirt.
Before I moved to Allston from my college’s downtown campus, the only times I’d gone out that far on the B Line train was to party at a house no one cared about trashing. At a bash in Allston, vomiting on the porch and accidentally spilling a kegs-worth of beer on the floor were perfectly acceptable behaviors. I didn’t think it was a place real people actually lived.
“Seeing families in Allston makes me sad,” my roommate would say.
“Yeah,” I’d reply. “But they were here first.”
Our neighbors are a Russian roulette of other college kids, drug-dealers who mark their spots with shoes on the telephone wire, and these low-income families. When we are robbed — once in the two years we live there — it is by the rich Boston University assholes who live behind us, though we can’t really prove it. My roommate suspects someone is running a Fight Club out of the laundromat next door. But again it’s those BU dickheads who bother us most.
My upstairs window gives me a view of a Burger King parking lot and a Valvoline, where the workers blast Lil’ Wayne at all hours. When I come out of my apartment wearing my bright red coat, they sing “Lady in Red” at me as I walk down the street. I try very hard not to smile.
It is 2008. Along Harvard and Brighton avenues, there’s a mix of artists and bros. The crust punks crowd the sidewalks outside Harper’s Ferry to see shows by bands I haven’t heard of but they also plan fun, “anti-establishment” summer activities like an epic squirt gun battle in the middle of the largest intersection. The bros and their brochicks squeal and flirt outside The Kells or Wonder Bar while Pink’s “Get this Party Started” thumps their glasses. I never know if someone’s meaty arm or sharp high heel will nail me as I walk past to get home from the T.
The best part about Allston is its array of international food options including Italian, French, Asian vegan, Burmese. There is a diner we love called The Grecian Yearning. A cartoon artist has all his drawings up on the walls and the blueberry muffins are killer. We take every hangover there.
My roommate and I stay awake until sunrise and go to Twin Donuts for breakfast. We stand outside in the sunshine and drink cranberry tea from Bagel Rising. We hit up Sunset Bar and Grill at least once a week. They have something like 200 beers on tap. We are staples at the Silhouette, a dive bar that serves free popcorn alongside sinfully cheap pitchers. We play darts in the back or commandeer the jukebox. We try to guess the faces in the mural outside.
I am not yet 21 and we are standing outside Blanchard’s, a Willy Wonka’s factory of liquor options. I am drunk.
“Careful, Gaby,” my friend Pat says. “Cops.”
“COPS?” I yell. “WHERE?!”
Pat blinks, “What is wrong with you?” he asks. But the cops just pass us by. Keep Allston shitty.
I find my roommate sitting on the sidewalk, elbows to her knees. Across the street the Grecian Yearning is on fire.
“The Grecian is burning,” she’d texted me. “Come quick.”
I sit beside her. “This can’t be happening,” I say. “Oh man, that guy’s drawings. They’re all gone now.”
“Why couldn’t it have been Steve’s?” she says, referring to another lesser restaurant down the street. We watch the firefighters try to quell the flames. I think about blueberry muffins.
Later, the Grecian Yearning is boarded up with wood and condemned. The people of Allston start coming with Sharpies and writing their “orders” down.
“2 eggs over easy” or “Chocolate chip pancakes, please” on the wood outside.
“RIP The Grecian,” I write while drunk. It’s a breakfast graveyard, but a new restaurant will pop up soon. Mostly, I am sad for that cartoonist. He lost something he can never get back.